Taipei, May 27 (CNA) Culture Minister Lung Ying-tai visited Taiwan's first sanatorium for leprosy patients Sunday and suggested turning it into a medical museum so that the historic site can continue to be used.
Lung visited the sanatorium's former hospital area, dormitory, Buddhist prayer room and facility for patients with mental disorders, accompanied by Losheng Sanatorium residents and members of the Losheng Self-Help Organization and the Youth Alliance for Losheng.
During her visit, the minister hugged and chatted with residents of the sanatorium.
In response to a call by the groups for Lung to designate the sanatorium as a national historic site, the minister said a medical memorial museum could be established first, and pledged to assist the New Taipei City government and the Department of Health with the idea of establishing such a museum.
Lung said she has read extensively about the history of the sanatorium and understands that the rest of society has long been unfair to the patients there, but she pointed out that a lack of budget is the biggest challenge.
Local activists have also traveled abroad to urge for the listing of the sanatorium as a UNESCO cultural heritage site.
In 2009, the government designated Losheng as a potential world heritage site because it has witnessed the development of politics, medicine, public health and human rights in Taiwan over the past several decades.
However, Lung said, Losheng does not have to prove its value through UNESCO listing, as it is already valuable.
Local activists and students have been protesting for the rights of the around 100 residents still living in the sanatorium, built in the 1930s to segregate leprosy patients from society.
Action to preserve the sanatorium have been underway since 2004, when the Taipei Rapid Transit Corp. (TRTC) made plans to encroach on the site to build a rail depot for the system's planned Xinzhuang line.
Activists have blamed the line's construction for causing land collapses near the sanatorium, which they say have led to cracks in the walls of the facility's structures and sink holes appearing in its grounds.
Because of limited time, Lung was unable to visit the sanatorium's cremation site, which she said was the place she most wanted to see.
She said the site impressed her because in a book she read about the sanatorium, it mentioned that Losheng patients had to take care of their own wardmates after their deaths and carry their bodies up the mountain to the cremation site.
In a statement issued later by the two activist groups, they thanked Lung for showing support for the sanatorium and called on the TRTC to assist with the ministry's preservation work.
(By Huang Hui-min and Christie Chen)