« Le petit Monaco des Congolais » ? De leprozerie Iyonda en de Belgisch-Congolese omgang met de ziekte van Hansen (1945-1960)

A renewed interest in the Belgian-Congolese past can be observed in both wider society and academic historiography, with colonial health care as one of the central themes. However, its flagship – the institutionalised leprosy care - has never been subjected to a critical postcolonial reflection. By looking into the medical evolution and governance of the Congolese model leprosarium Iyonda (1945-1960), this article takes an innovative approach at leprosy history and broader medical colonial history. A broad corpus of sources ranging from personal correspondence to administrative archives and retrospective testimonies was used. This article shows that Belgian Congo remained strongly committed to its network of leprosaria in the 1950s. The Belgian government increasingly allowed subsidies, but also used them as a bargaining chip to control ailing leprosaria. Despite this, Catholic doctors and missionaries were able to successfully counter government claims thanks to their networks and authority over the patients. Catholic leprosaria could initially be entirely under female control. Only after leprosy care entered the medical sphere of influence around 1950 as a result of the new and curative sulfone therapy did female leadership give way to academically trained male doctors. The latter employed treatments that fitted within contemporary (colonial) ethics in a context characterised by a lack of critical infrastructure and medical equipment.