Dr. Tereso and the Rovisco Pais Hospital

Dr. José Tereso is a native of the Torch, was born in the year of the opening of the Hospital Colónia Rovisco Pais, is a doctor, and in the scope of his professional activity he performed functions and various positions in the field of Public Health.


When we asked him to speak about this hospital, he began his report with visible enthusiasm, stating: “all my experience was around the people and actors of that hospital, which was the first employment center for the entire Gandares region.”


From a young age he remembers being “afraid of that disease and knowing that in the various villages around him, including the Torch, there were lepers. We knew that this was the reason why our parents did not allow us to go to certain neighbors. My mother, for example, had a great friend with the disease and was only going to see her on the run from my father, and this was a very liberal man, but I was absolutely prohibited from going to that lady’s house. I am still friends with the son today. It was like that, at that time. We could not enter the hospital either, only employees and authorized persons entered, after passing the reception, as we currently do”. When talking about this, many hospital employees with whom he lived and who lived in the surrounding villages come to mind. And he recalls that “most employees had a job inside and another one outside, like Mr. Constantino, who was a nurse at the hospital and a barber outside.”


Likewise, as a childhood friend of one of the sons of the first director, Dr. Manuel dos Santos Silva and later as his son-in-law, he says: “I got used to hearing about the Rovisco Pais Hospital, about the experiences there, about the successes therapeutic”. He remembers hearing about “the first brigade in 1954, and the outpatient regime, the scientific magazines they edited, the specialized library, the concern for social life in the hospital”.


Regarding the first director of the Hospital Colónia Rovisco Pais, later Inspector of the Institute for Assistance to Lepers, Dr. José Tereso draws the following portrait: “my father-in-law was a great reference among peers, being seen as a great specialist, who besides as full professor at the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Coimbra, he was president of the Regional Section of the Centro da Ordem dos Médicos”.


He also told us how this connection between his father-in-law and leprosy occurred: “he was invited by Professor Bissaya Barreto, of whom he was a disciple and colleague at the Faculty of Medicine and Hospital of the University of Coimbra, to study leprosy, a national priority and in that mission was to meet other leprosaria in the United States of America, Brazil, Cuba, Norway and Africa. ” In the United States of America he managed to obtain “more recent medicines – sulfones”, in quantities that started to arrive more regularly in Portugal “to treat lepromatous leprosy, which was the most prevalent in our country”.

His first office was at the place where his father-in-law was, at his residence. “He was highly esteemed by the population of the region in such a way that, on his return from his first big trip to Brazil, two vans full of people from the Torch moved to the Rocha wharf, Conde de Óbidos in Alcântara – Lisbon, to receive when disembarking the ship.”


Shortly before Dr. José Tereso was married, Dr. Manuel dos Santos Silva became paraplegic. “He was operated on in Neurosurgery at Hospital Sobral Cid but he did not recover. But he was always a great fighter, he lived for several years with this limitation and died in 1985, with my presence, in the building where today is the Regional Health Administration, then HUC’s Orthopedics service headed by Prof. Dr. Norberto Canha, where years later I would work on the conversion of Hospital Rovisco Pais … ”For many years, Dr. José Tereso accompanied him in many of his activities,“ being his driver ”. And it was in this context that he entered the Hospital Rovisco Pais for the first time: “It was on April 27, 1974, in the preventive clinic, that there was a dermatology lecture given by Professor Poiares Batista to the senior students of the Faculty of Medicine, with the presence of of Prof. Dr. Bissaya Barreto. At that time, leprosy was an area given in the chair of dermatology and we still lived under the scientific point of view with many doubts and in dermatology everyone had to know very well what leprosy was”.


He confesses that “over the decades, he has witnessed many misunderstandings regarding that work”. In his opinion “there is no doubt that it was a model leprology hospital, unique in Portugal and one of the best in the world! (said and written by the world summits – eg Raoul Follereau who visited the Hospital Rovisco Pais twice). Look at the modernity that consisted, at the time, of brigades in several counties aimed at bringing medical and social assistance to the populations, giving medicines to the sick, and all in conjunction with all the municipal health delegates of the 318 counties in the country, such as the clinical laboratory, the pharmacy, the imaging, the operating room with a glass wall that guaranteed the brightness if there was an electrical interruption”.


And, he goes on to say: “and the interior of the hospital was a small town where everything existed! Nearby, Preventório and Creche, located in Quinta da Guardiosa welcomed the healthy children of the sick. They had excellent conditions, yet they were separated from their parents … But at the time it was like that, scientifically ”. He admits that this aspect “ended up leaving marks on some victims of the disease and their relatives”, and that is why he understands that “there must be understanding in these cases, towards the traumatized ones”, but he thinks it is incorrect to decontextualize facts, because “those methods of controlling contagion were correct in the light of the science of that time and similar to what was done in the best leprosaria around the world.”

 He adds: “It was celebrated the vision of Prof. Fernando Bissaya Barreto to offer some dignity to people who are victims of ostracism in the community and “we are going to have a fight against leprosy and not against the leper”, we want the sick to flee to the Leprosarium, we do not want the sick to flee the Leprosarium ”. “The concern to minimize the stigma of the disease led Dr. Manuel dos Santos Silva, in the lesson given in the Hansenology Summary Course held at the Hospital-Colónia Rovisco Pais from 17 to 22 April 1972, to propose (with its derivatives) replace the terms of leprosy and substitutes. So instead of leprosy, leper, leprologist, leprosy, leproma, lepromatous leprosy, etc. for leprosy, leprosy patient, leprosy, leprosy, leprosy, leprosy leprosy, etc., in homage to Armaeur Hansen who in 1871, Norwegian scientist who first identified the etiologic agent of the disease”.

In his professional career, Dr. José Tereso has always been in the Regional Health Administration (ARS) and since 1992, he has had the Rovisco Pais Hospital under his direct responsibility. At that time, he recalls that “there were only dozens of hospitalized patients and today there are still some ex-patients in the building known as Pousadinha. I have always supported the idea that as long as there were ex-patients there, and as long as they want to stay, that wish should be respected. I actually see this issue as a moral obligation that the State has with ex-patients ”.


Recalls that at that time, he and Dr. António Tralhão “fought a fight” to readjust some terms of the protocol for the transfer of areas and pavilions that had been made to APPCDM at the time of the previous Minister of Health and that made the management of the project very difficult. space (the attached map did not coincide with the assignment and damaged the Hospital’s interests).


Having overcome the difficulties, Dr. José Tereso says that it was also at that time that “I started preparing the future of Rovisco Pais for Rehabilitation. Although it was not his specialty, he explains that he was almost going to the specialty of physiatry, which “was one of my favorite areas” and recalls how this enthusiasm was born in a congress of cerebrovascular diseases in the lecture of Dr. Martins da Cunha, physiatrist of the Hospital de Santa Maria – “I was amazed because he was a great pedagogue. He made drawings to explain the patient’s therapeutic process. We were amazed to hear a master describe pathologies and therapies. But then I ended up not going to the specialty of physiatry because that meant going to Lisbon … I opted for Public Health because I always bet on disease prevention / health promotion and my time at the Montemor-o-Velho Health Center was crucial, because the municipal health delegate, Dr. Joaquim Pimenta, was a great teacher”.


In 1992 as President of the Health Administration of the District of Coimbra “I presented to the Minister of Health and to the Secretary of State for Health, the idea and need to give another purpose to Hospital Rovisco Pais (this year, solutions for HIV diseases were analyzed in a superior way. and drug addiction!), with the proposal to convert to Rehabilitation Medicine, which was superiorly accepted”.


In 1993 “I was appointed coordinator of the Health Sub-region of Coimbra and Regional Health Delegate and in the same year by the Governing Board of the Regional Health Administration of the Center, chaired by Dr. Manuel António Leitão da Silva, as coordinator of the working group conversion study at Hospital Leprosaria Rovisco Pais”.


In 1994, holding the position of President of the Regional Health Administration of the Center, he says that “the Hospital’s conversion project continued, with a multidisciplinary team, except for the error of eleven people, which included architects, engineers, doctors, nurses , hospital administrators and even a pediatric surgeon. We prepared the functional study for the hospital to be converted into a Rehabilitation Medicine Center, articulating the process at the Ministry level. I personally presented the proposal to the Minister of Health, Dr. Adalberto Paulo Mendo, who issued the order, on May 17, 1995, of “I agree with the proposed proposal” for the conversion of the hospital and published in Diário da República in September of that same year . What has been rehabilitated today was and is within the scope of that functional study, currently awaiting the construction of the main building. The Center for Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation of the Centro Region will continue to dignify the National Health Service, being the only one of this specialty to belong to”.



(Text based on oral testimony, in 2020, validated by the interviewee. Interview and writing by Cristina Nogueira – CulturAge)