ANNOUNCEMENT: Anniversary events being organized in Bergen, Norway, 150 years after Hansen’s discovery

Magnus Vollset
Associate Professor
Department of Global Public Health and Primary Care, University of Bergen

Head of 2023 Hansen Anniversary program committee

On the evening of Feb. 28, 1873, Gerhard Armauer Hansen observed, for the very first time, small rod-shaped organisms in tissue samples from one of his patients. Though the rods were microscopic, the implications were enormous. Hansen had discovered the pathogen causing leprosy: M. leprae.

The discovery reduced the power of superstitions by giving the feared disease a rational explanation. It had enormous consequences for preventive medicine and health legislation in Norway and globally.

Despite the progress that has been made in the 150 years since the discovery, leprosy still has yet to be eradicated. The University of Bergen and the Sasakawa Leprosy (Hansen’s Disease) Initiative are working together to commemorate the watershed moment of Hansen’s discovery by hosting events that prompt reflection on the past, consideration of the present, and build momentum for a future where the disease remains only in history books and museums.

This well-known photograph of Hansen in his laboratory is part of the University of Bergen Library’s Special Collections (

Event and webcast in February

On the anniversary of the discovery, Feb. 28, visitors to Bergen can attend an event in the university’s ceremonial hall. On the same day, we will host a webcast for anyone who cannot attend in person.

In preparation, we have been filming in several locations, including the Bergen Leprosy Museum, the Armauer Hansen Commemorative Room, and the Bergen State Archives. The 75-minute webcast will feature interviews and conversations with experts from various fields, testimonies, greetings, and more — including a performance of a lamentation written by a patient around 1830. 

Both in-person participants and webcast viewers will learn more about Hansen, his discovery, and its consequences as well as about leprosy history preservation more widely. Thoughts on the present situation and strategies for the near future will also be shared.

The anniversary event will also be a time for critical reflection. A presentation that discusses how Hansen’s legacy is preserved and communicated in Bergen will acknowledge the discovery’s mixed effects, including justification for cruel segregation and human experimentation. 

Conference in June

The anniversary’s largest event will be a conference held June 21-22 in Bergen’s Grieg Hall. The conference will gather global, regional, and national leaders, practitioners, researchers, persons affected by the disease, and other stakeholders.

There will be sessions on medical and social aspects of leprosy as well as on history preservation. Special sessions, social and cultural side programs, and maybe a few surprises will add variety. There will also be a poster session, and we are working to attract sponsors in the hope that we will be able to cover travel and accommodation expenses for some contributors.

The evening before the conference officially opens, on June 20, Bergen municipality will welcome participants to a reception in King Haakon’s Hall, a medieval banquet hall in the city center. On the first day of the conference, Bergen Leprosy Museum will host a “night at the museum.”

Please visit our website at

We look forward to hosting you in Bergen!

Commemorative event (Feb. 28, 2023)
Location: University Aula, Bergen, Norway
Time: 11:00 a.m.–12:30 p.m. CET

Webcast (Feb. 28, 2023)
Location: online
Time: 1:00 p.m.–2:15 p.m. CET

Conference (June 20-22, 2023)
Location: Grieg Hall, Bergen, Norway