Honouring a plague fighter

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  • Tuesday, 11 Mar 2014

THE inaugural Dr Wu Lien-Teh lecture on ‘Human Habitat: Habits and Health: Informing Our Future With Lessons from History’ was an eye-opener for the 70-odd participants.

Not only did they learn about the life of Dr Wu (1879-1960) and his contributions to medical services, they also discovered the role he played in battling pneumonic plague that had ravaged vast parts of China in the 1930s.

The lecture at the E&O Hotel Penang in Farquhar Street by the Dr Wu Lien-Teh Society, was part of a three-day symposium held from Saturday.

Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng, who opened the event, said Dr Wu was a noble son of Penang, who was a leading figure in the history of medicine.

“He was the internationally acclaimed plague fighter. Dr Wu was the first to win the Queen’s scholarship in the Straits Settlement to study medicine at Cambridge University after graduating from the Penang Free School in 1896.

“He was also the first Penangite and the first Malaysian to be nominated for the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1935 for outstanding contributions to medicine as well as modernising China’s medical services,” he said in his address at the opening on Sunday.

Lim said Dr Wu was also an innovative medical scientist.

“Despite the lack of medical research facilities during the outbreak of the pneumonic plague, he managed to set up numerous hospitals and laboratories in Harbin, China.

“As a result, quarantine stations were set up and cremation of the deceased, finally stopped the plague in 1911,” he said.

Lim added that during the Japanese invasion in 1937, Dr Wu returned to Malaya and set up a medical clinic in Ipoh, Perak, where he gave free consultation services to the poor who could not afford to pay.

“We are not here just to commemorate his contribution in the medical field, but we are also here to learn from history,” he said.

International Institute for Global Health United Nations University director Prof Anthony Capon, who was the invited speaker at the lecture, spoke about the population of the world from 1960 to a population forecast in 2030.

He also spoke about obesity, which is becoming a major problem in Malaysia.

In his speech, Prof Capon highlighted several principles for a sustainable city governance. adding that they included re-discovering the city, re-defining city values, breaking down silos and re-distributing urban decision-making.

He also spoke on the pathways between climate change and human health, in which the climate change had direct and indirect impact towards human health.

Also present were Dr Wu Lien-Teh Society chairman Datuk Dr Anwar Fazal, Penang Institute chief executive officer Zairil Khir Johari, Penang Agriculture, Agro-based Industry, Rural Development and Health Committee chairman Dr Afif Bahardin and Pulau Tikus assemblyman Yap Soo Huey.

A symposium on global health challenges highlighting diseases in The New Millennium was also held at the Penang Medical College yesterday. Close to 100 medical practioners from the northern region as well as China attended the symposium.

Among the topics presented during the symposium were dengue prevention as well as the elusive sustainable solution as well as the danger of tuberculosis.

About 50 of the legendary doctor’s descendants who returned from as far as United States, Northern Ireland, Australia and Singapore also walked along the heritage trail in an event organised in conjunction with the symposium.

The trail included a visit to Ng Kongsi, the family’s ancestral clan house in King Street, the United Hokkien Cemeteries columbarium where Dr Wu’s ashes are kept and Penang Free School, his alma mater.

The Star has sponsored the reprint of 1,000 copies of Dr Wu’s book ‘Plague Fighter: The Autobiography of a Modern Chinese Phy­sician’, which was published in 1959 but has since gone out of print.

The reprint is sold at RM80 each at the Penang Heritage Trust.

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