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The Department of Medicine at Oxford: the overseas programmes in tropical medicine (Part 2)
David Weatherall Scientist
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They developed programmes up on the Thai border, with the Karan refugees from Myanmar, and done a lot of work for the WA show, particularly on the prevention of malaria in pregnancy, and that type of stuff, and a lot of other diseases that are very common and rather neglected in that part of the world. Melioidosis which most of us have never heard of, but is a tuberculosis-like condition which occurs in Thailand, and Nick, Nick worked out ways of managing that, and so on, so it’s very successful. And then I guess because of its success, the Wellcome Trust who were supporting it had always been keen to have a similar establishment in Africa, and so that was the start of the Kilifi Project, which is now being run by another of our folk called Kevin Marsh. That’s on the coast, not too far from Mombassa, and what they did there was something very wise, they, it’s a, it really is a partnership this, with the Kenyan government, they took over a little district hospital there, so that it was an ideally set up for clinical research, really in the field, in a very highly malarious area. And then more recently, because of its success, the Wellcome have put in some more money and they’ve built a beautiful research centre there as well, attached to the hospital. So, that’s worked very well, and then the, the next one was really, it was due to Nick White’s enormous success in Thailand. They’ve, we set up on in Ho Chi Minh City, in South Vietnam. That’s been terrific, the Vietnamese are tremendous to work with and tremendously energetic, and we, that, that unit has been run by a young man, another of the graduates who worked in the Institute, he was a neurologist originally. And he’s become a real expert on viral disease in the developing countries, and has worked a lot on dengue and viral encephalitis, but more recently has become the, one of the major centres in Asia for the Asian flu work. So they’ve been, what I think is ideal models of what I would call North-South partnerships, with the accent on the partnership. You don’t go in there, snaffle off the blood of the poor old locals and run back and write lots of papers, which is, has been, in certain parts of the world, the way things were done. You develop a partnership, you have lots of to-ing and fro-ing, you train people in the UK, you don’t, you train them for the local problems to go back to, you don’t kind of train them in kind of expensive Western medicine, as it were, and so I think that plus our own long-standing programmes in places like Sri Lanka and so on, I think that probably is one of the things I’m proudest of, in the Oxford school, and it’s still expanding actually. And the idea, once you’ve developed this North-South partnership, when things are well established, then you can start to develop what you might call local, South-South partnerships, and that’s happening in Kilifi, for example. They’re now developing programmes with lots of people in Africa, and I think it’s one of the most economic ways of helping the developing countries and you don’t kind of throw your money into governments and never see it again, it’s done on a partnership, a personal level between you and the other end. So that’s been, that’s been probably the best thing we did in the Department of Medicine, I suspect.

British Scientist Sir David Weatherall (1933-2018) was a world renowned expert on blood diseases, in particular thalassaemias, and used his expertise to help control and prevent these diseases in developing countries. He founded the Institute of Molecular Medicine at Oxford in 1989 and was knighted in 1987.

Listeners: Marcus Pembrey

Marcus Pembrey, now Emeritus, was Professor of Paediatric Genetics at the Institute of Child Health, University College London and consultant clinical geneticist at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children London. He is a visiting Professor at the University of Bristol UK, where he was the Director of Genetics within the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children until 2006. A past president of the European Society of Human Genetics, he is also the founding Chairman of the Progress Educational Trust.

Duration: 4 minutes, 44 seconds

Date story recorded: July 2007

Date story went live: 02 June 2008