Carville Leprosy Hospital 1977-79

“No Place for Cowards”

When we documented these images at the U. S. Public Health Service Hospital in Carville, LA in the 1970s, leprosy was the most feared, wide spread disease on earth. Millions suffered from it around the world.  It was an incurable infectious disease capable of causing devastating disfigurement if left untreated.  AIDS was not known to exist and would not be reported upon by the Center for Disease Control until 1981.

For a century, beginning in the 1890s, Carville evolved from the remote place to which pariahs were banished for life into a renowned research facility for patients suffering from Hansen’s disease, the name by which the illness is known today.  Notwithstanding its gradual transformation, Carville was “no place for cowards,” according to Max, a Puerto Rican patient. 

Today doctors can cure Hansen’s disease with months of multiple drug therapy; a statement they only dreamt of making more than three decades ago. 

Ironically, as medical science made great strives against Hansen’s disease, AIDS grew first into an epidemic and then mushroomed into a pandemic.  AIDS patients are often ostracized as the “lepers” of old once were.  Repeating a scenario described by many patients we met at Carville, families today frequently flee from the sides of AIDS victims when their love and care are needed most.  The physical effects of AIDS are as heart-rending as anything we witnessed at Carville. 

We can only hope that the plight of those suffering from AIDS will be alleviated much more rapidly than the plight of those who once suffered from the most feared disease of the last 20 centuries.

Words and photographs © by Marty and Mark Petty