The words leprosy and lazareto are rare in today's language. However, when consulting the national bibliography of a distant past, not very distant and even recent, they appear with surprising frequency.
Disease leprosy that was also designated as Elefancia or Lázaro, among other various denominations, reached the American territory with European emigration and reproduced with it a universe of moral and religious meanings and institutions and social management practices forged in the old continent. At the beginning of the sixteenth century the disease occupied a place in the concerns of the colonial administrators, who laid the foundations for its regulation by establishing hospitals in San Lazaro, institutions where the sick were separated and assisted.
With the establishment of New Granada appeared the notion of lazaretto, sometimes leprous, as an institution for the management of leprosy. Law 16 of August 5, 1833, provided for the establishment of three lazarettos in the provinces of the First, Second and Third Districts, corresponding to the territories of the Middle East, South West and North of the New Republic, and was determined reserve part of the income destined to sustain the investment in an existing lazaretto in Panama.
In compliance with that provision, Decrees 21 February and 21 December 1835 were issued. Through the first one, the old hospital or lazaretto located in Caño Loro was assimilated to the Third District.
In the Second, it was decided to establish the first district lazaretto on the contracting site, determining the transfer of a concentration of patients previously settled at the El Curo site, although the date on which said provision became effective is unknown.
This Lazareto located in what is now the Municipality of Contracting worked with state resources and public charities in order to ensure the separated and asylee patients food, clothing, housing and medical, religious and moral care. The reserved management of leprosy was determined by medical controversies around those pathological notions associated with the disease, such as organic seat site, nature, causes, etiology, symptomatological definition, nosology, cure or therapy.
The performance of ecclesiastical institutions constituted another aspect of the social management of leprosy. In this sense, the activity carried out by the Catholic mission of the Salesian Fathers, coming from Turin (Italy) and those who settled in the country in 1890, is highlighted. They promoted national campaigns for the collection of economic resources, always exalting the need to assume the protection of the segregated patients as a matter of Christian charity. With these monies and the state subsidies they administered, they founded churches, asylums, schools, theaters, libraries and other works within the lazaretto. The State delegated functions of assistance, education, moral, cultural and religious leadership of the resident population.
Since the quinquennium of General Rafael Reyes at the beginning of the 20th century, and with the creation of the Central Office of Lazaretos, there was an increase in legislation aimed at establishing strict isolation measures for the control of leprosy. From that moment on, the State's concern for "preventing the spread of the disease" was expressed, a concern that was based on the assumption of its contagious nature and its definition as "public calamity" and as an obstacle to progress and for the project of modernization of the country. These measures resulted in the improvement of the surveillance infrastructure (seals and sanitary cords), in the prevention of contagion and in disinfection (hospitals, laboratories, hygiene technology, minting of a special coin of internal circulation in the lazaretto), in administrative autonomy (administrative offices, mail, registry, notary and court, directly dependent on the National State) and for the effective restriction of coexistence between the healthy and the sick (asylums for healthy and sick children, among others). The facilities of the lazaretto were also improved, trying to equip it with aqueduct, rooms for the sick, doctors and administrative agents, asylum, school, hospital, market square and land for agricultural work, among other works.
In many cases the improvement in the conditions of life in the lazaretto and the assistance practices generated expressions of acceptance or complacency on the part of the sick. But in general, isolationist policies faced practices of direct or hidden social resistance on the part of the population settled in the lazaretto. Therefore, the normative provisions could never be fully complied with and some did not actually apply. The State made important efforts and invested considerable economic resources until 1961, when the dissolution of the lazarettos was ordered. He never achieved his goal of medicalizing, controlling and eradicating leprosy through isolation. In contrast, preventive measures were gaining ground in the epidemiological and therapeutic management of the disease.
Towards the end of the 1920s the "anti-leprosy campaign" became a matter of public hygiene and social welfare. Since 1930, in a policy of modernization and economic rationality, an attempt was made to reduce the high maintenance cost of lazarettos, promoting the exit of those patients who are not contagious or "social cured" to be treated in regional dermatological clinics.
During the last two decades of the existence of the lazaret, the introduction of an effective drug to inactivate the sulfur-based leprosy bacillus determined a policy of control of the disease focused on the administration of chemotherapy treatment, the monitoring of social curing and the search for new infectious cases. However, it was not until the year 1961 when the full enjoyment of their civil rights and guarantees was restored to the sick, isolation in the lazarettos was suppressed and the asylums or separation preventions of healthy children of leprosy patients were eliminated . After this collapse the population of Contracting was limited to the municipal order and there shelters were established and what is now the Sanatorium of Contracting E.S.E., as an entity specialized in the care of the disease.