In 2016, the Hansen’s disease prophylaxis and treatment assistance system of São Paulo was recognized as a cultural heritage by the Council for the Defense of the Historical, Archaeological, Artistic and Tourist Heritage of the State of São Paulo (Condephaat). The decision was based on technical studies, which showed the representativeness of this complex by bringing to light several past and present issues.
According to these studies, the assistance system was implemented following the isolation hospital model adopted in the late nineteenth century in several places around the world. In Brazil, projects of this type appeared in the 1920s, in a eugenicist and hygienist context, in which compulsory internment (segregation) was imposed by Law 2,169, of December 27, 1926.
In São Paulo, the landmark was Decree 5.027 of May 16, 1931, which determined the formation of the so-called "prophylactic tripod", comprising:
Colony Asylums (Colonies, and Colony Hospitals): in remote places, with buildings and regulations that ensured the compulsory confinement of people affected by Hansen’s disease;
Dispensaries: outpatient clinics used for examination, screening, and referral of people affected by Hansen’s disease and ‘communicants’ (people who had been in contact with the sick);
Preventoriums: ‘orphanages’ that housed the healthy children of persons affected by Hansen's disease who had been hospitalized (segregated) in the colony asylums.
The 1931 decree also ordered the construction of five colony asylums: Santo Ângelo (1928, Mogi das Cruzes), Padre Bento (1931, Guarulhos), Pirapitingui (1931, Itu), Cocais (1932, Casa Branca) and Aimorés (1933, Bauru), the locations of which were based on the railway network of the time.
Besides the ‘Carville’ type treatment pavilions and residences, the colony asylums were designed to function as guarded mini-cities, with healthy, intermediate, and sick zones. They had spaces and buildings to meet the needs of those who lived there: from the supply of goods and services (factories, warehouses, hairdressers) to leisure (theater, casino, soccer field) and religious assistance (churches and temples).