At the beginning of the 20th century, leprosy in Spain was an important public health problem. The lack of knowledge and fear of illness led the patients to live in a situation of total isolation and abandonment.
In 1902, Father Carlos Ferrís, S.J. and the lawyer Joaquín Ballester had a dream: to care for the leprosy patients who, isolated by a fearful society of the unknown, suffer the disease alone without any consolation or palliative.
They wanted to open a Sanatorium, in contrast to the Lazaretos of the time , where people affected by leprosy were confined and isolated, without giving them health care. Although there was not yet a treatment against leprosy, his idea was to apply all the medical knowledge of the time, in addition to providing spiritual care and human treatment.
After seven years of efforts the San Francisco de Borja Sanatorium opens its doors to welcome leprosy patients from all over Spain. Over time, the Sanatorium becomes like a small town, with more than 300 patients, with its own bakery services, carpentry, blacksmithing, printing and bookbinding, shoemaking, hairdressing,…
The laboratory is openned and several research projects are initiated to study the origin of leprosy and the treatments for its total cure. One year later, Fontilles participates in the III International Leprosy Conference in Strasbourg. This is how international contacts with medical and research teams begin, in order to share data and experience and apply the latest advances in the Sanitarium to cure leprosy or alleviate its effects.
A wall of 3 meters high and 3 km long is built as a measure to silence the protests of the neighboring towns. Over time the relationship was very good and the Sanatorium was a source of work for the area.
There is not an effective treatment yet. Chaumogra Oil is used for the first time. Physical agents are also used: ultraviolet rays, hot baths, hydrotherapy, dry ice …
Sanatorium of Fontilles is conferred the title of Institute-National School of Leprology.
The Sanatorium and its assets are seized by the government of the Republic, taking charge of its direction as National Sanatorium.
The Board of the Sanatorium retrieves the address and management of the Sanatorium.
There are more than 200 patients, 12 Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate, 1 Jesuit Father, 53 temporary and permanent employees and volunteers.
The journal Revista de Leprología de Fontilles begins, with the aim of disclosing the results of the research carried out in the Sanatorium and other international scientific articles of interest.
The first curative drug for leprosy, the sulfone, begins to be used in Fontilles. It stops the advance of the disease.
The first International Course of Leprology for ATS and missionaries is celebrated, which later, forming teams, are destined to different regions of Spain to fight against leprosy.
Currently, these courses are still being taught in two editions: one for paramedical personnel and another for physicians. They assist doctors, ATS, social workers, cooperators, etc.
First visit of the Moors and Christians of Alcoy. They would be followed by the groups of Amparo, San Sebastián, Monóvar, Zaragoza, … In time they would become more than 90 groups that help spread the work of Fontilles and raise donations.
Fontilles participates in the VI International Congress of Leprosy, held in Madrid, which includes a visit to the Sanatorium.
The use of corticosteroids to treat leprosy reactions begins. Its success will allow the sick person to treat themselves in their home and make their stay in the Sanatorium shorter.
Fontilles joins the celebration of the World Day against Leprosy, established in 1954 by Raoul Follereau, with various awareness activities.
The Sanatorium is the second center in the world to apply Thalidomide to treat leproreactions. New drugs such as Clofazimine (1968) and Rifanpicin (1971) are added to Fontilles’ means of curing leprosy.
The outpatient regime begins. The patients in treatment live in their homes and go to the Sanatorium for revision. The number of residents decreases and the number of outpatients increases to 420.
Fontilles joins ILEP (International Federation of organizations against Leprosy). The first financial aid is sent to projects of other associations of ILEP.
The WHO advises the use of multi-therapy: Dapsone, Clofazimine and Rifampicin: leprosy can be cured. At present, multi-therapy is still used and the affected people are cured in a period of between 6 and 12 months.
Fontilles starts its own project in Harapanahalli (India). At the end of the 90s, projects were initiated in Brazil (Araguaia) and China (Tai-Kam) and work was expanded in India, with new projects. Equatorial Guinea and Nicaragua complete the list of countries where Fontilles international cooperation begins.
The Statutes of Fontilles are modified to include the international scope and in 1995 a new wording is given to insist on the elimination of leprosy and other diseases linked to poverty in other countries as a purpose of Fontilles, also gathering assistance to other diseases or marginalization of today’s society.
Fontilles initiates awareness campaigns in Spain to request economic aid for its international projects.
Fontilles joins the Valencian coordinator of non-governmental organizations for development (CVONGD)
The Borja Geriatric Center is opened in the old women’s pavilion, which caters to elderly people with high levels of dependency. It is a member of LARES (Association of Nursing Homes and Care Services for the Elderly of the Nonprofit Sector)
Fontilles intensifies its sensitization and education for development campaigns: its web page is opened and materials such as exhibitions, books, videos, etc. are elaborated, which are extended with various projects in later years and are presented in the visits of students to the Sanatorium and talks and events in different parts of Spain.
Fontilles already has an important recognition of its work at international level, with active participation in congresses and international forums. The Annual Assembly of ILEP is held in Valencia. Recent years have focused on an increase in international cooperation and research and training work both inside and outside of Spain.
Fontilles enters the State coordinator of non-governmental organizations for development
100 years have passed since the opening of the sanatorium and we celebrated it with an exhibition, a documentary and a book that are presented at different events in Castellón, Valencia and Alicante.
The presence of Fontilles on the Internet is expanded with the electronic newsletter and social networks: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and google +.
In the Sanatorium, people affected by other pathologies that require temporary stays and post-surgery rehabilitation also begin to be treated. Some are derived from other hospitals, by social services of local councils or by other non-profit entities, given the need for a place to complete their recovery before returning home and being able to take care of themselves. The growth of these activities is consolidated in 2014 and following. The Ferrís Hospital is created, which has equipment and professionals according to the new services.
The San Francisco de Borja Sanatorium is a center of reference in the fight against leprosy in Spain – patients are treated on an outpatient basis and we receive consultations from centers throughout Spain on possible cases of leprosy and treatments -; and abroad – as an international research and training center-
The mission of guaranteeing the right to health and quality care for people at risk is carried out in Spain, within the sanatorium’s health care complex, at the Borja Geriatric Center, which houses seniors with high levels of dependency and the Hospital Ferrís, for temporary stays in post-surgery periods, convalescence of diseases, chronic pathologies, rehabilitation after traumatological surgery, cerebrovascular accidents, etc.
Outside of Spain, Fontilles has cooperation projects in order to end leprosy and its consequences, as well as other forgotten diseases linked to poverty, and support the sustainable development of affected populations. Each year, nearly 400,000 people benefit from these projects, developed in Asian countries (India, Nepal and Vietnam); Africa (Mozambique and the Democratic Republic of the Congo) and Latin America (Bolivia, Nicaragua, Brazil, Ecuador and Honduras).