Young patient of Dr. Rollier. The image appears as the frontispiece of A. Rollier's, "Quarante ans d'héliothérapie". ca. 1944, Olser Library of the History of Medicine, McGill University.
Heliotherapy is the use of sunlight for reasons of health and hygiene. Heliotherapy treatments increased in popularity as part of a wider uptake of the idea that sunlight and fresh air could contribute to a ‘cure’ for tuberculosis. In 1903 Dr Auguste Rollier opened the first clinic intended for the sunlight treatment of surgical tuberculosis at Leysin, Switzerland. Surgical tuberculosis was a common term for extrapulmonary or nonpulmonary tuberculosis, with the disease spreading from the lungs or lymph nodes into the bones, spine, or joints. More prominent in children and adolescents, treatment entailed surgery to remove the affected areas and the patients subsequent convalescence. As medical advances progressed it was generally thought that radical surgery, particularly in children was not the best course of treatment. Operations on bones and joints to remove TB foci could have a serious effect on growth, leading to disfigurement and the shortening of limbs. Futhermore surgery did not prevent the disease from reoccurring. As such, physicians adopted more conservative measures that included open air treatments and heliotherapy in an attempt to increase a patient’s resistance to TB and foster their general physical wellbeing in order to aid the recuperation of their affected joints and bones. Having founded the first sunlight clinic for the treatment of surgical tuberculosis, Rollier practised heliotherapy for over forty years running thirty-six clinics in Leysin with a total of more than 1,000 beds.
After antimicrobial therapy became available, heliotherapy for tuberculosis was no longer practiced.