The International Council of Nurses (ICN) recently issued a press statement calling for support of a petition to strengthen the nomination of Marianne Stöger and Margaritha Pissarek for a Nobel Peace Prize. These two Austrian nurses dedicated 40 years of their lives as volunteers caring for Hansen’s Disease (Leprosy) patients on Sorokdo Island, South Korea. The Korean Nurses Association launched the One-Million-Signature campaign.
In the 1960s, the two Austrian nurses heard that Sorokdo Island in South Korea needed of nurses. This was one of the communities across the world where Hansen’s patients were isolated from society. Although treatment was available at this time, it was far less effective than it is today and many of the older patients were already severely disabled.
Stöger went to the island in 1962 and was joined by Pissarek in 1966. They worked there voluntarily for 40-plus years and are remembered as the “Angels of Sorokdo Island.” In 2005, they returned to Austria so as not to be a burden on the hospital in their old age. At this point, there were 600 patients left on the island, compared to around 6,000 when they arrived.
The patients were at first surprised by the appearance of these two nurses as they had never seen foreigners with blue eyes and blond hair. Their biggest surprise, however, came when the nurses donned only white gowns while working with the patients and treated their wounds with bare hands. Other hospital staff wore gowns, gloves, and masks and avoided direct contact with patients as far as possible.
Marianne and Margaritha became substitute mothers for many of their patients, as the disease generally manifested in the teenage years. Not only did they devote themselves to the care of their patients, but also canvassed for funds from organizations in their home country for medicines, additional hospital buildings, snacks and even dowry’s for patients who got married and had to return to the mainland if the wife became pregnant. Moreover, they campaigned for issues surrounding the rights of Hansen’s patients as well as for more volunteers to join them on the island. Today there are still hundreds of volunteers from across the world who go and work on the island every year.
The two nurses returned to Austria without asking for any compensation, and their nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize is to honor them for their decades of sacrifice, dedication, and advocacy. Another reason to support the campaign is that no nurse has ever won a Noble Prize. Recognition of nurses at this level will help to strengthen the nursing profession and contribute towards resolving the critical shortage of nurses across the globe.
The One Million-Signature campaign still has a long way to go. Sign the petition by going to mm.kna.or.kr.