Commemorating the Lifetime Work in Public Health of Dr Wu Lien-Teh

By Mei Kuan

The recent Dr Wu Lien-Teh International Conference 2022, jointly hosted by the Dr Wu Lien-Teh Education Society of Malaysia and Wu Lien-Teh Institute of Harbin Medical University of China, highlighted the many legacies of the late Penang-born, internationally-renowned epidemiologist cum face mask pioneer and how the battle against the global COVID-19 pandemic has drawn lessons from measures adopted by the physician in stamping out the then 1910 Manchurian Plague.

The plague fighter was a man of many firsts. He was the first person of Chinese descent to graduate as a medical doctor from the University of Cambridge. The inventor of the Wu mask (a surgical face covering), which is widely considered the precursor to the N95 mask of today, went on to become the first Malayan and first Chinese-heritage person nominated to receive the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1935. In March last year, Google Doodle celebrated the 142nd birthday of the devoted advocate and practitioner of medical advancement.

Conducted virtually via Zoom, the webinar was officiated by Khairy Jamaluddin, Minister of Health, Malaysia and chaired by Prof Dr Wang Chen, President of Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences and Vice President of Chinese Medical Association of China. It was also held in commemoration of the 111th anniversary of The International Plague Conference first held in Shenyang which was then chaired by Wu.

“In 1910, Wu successfully stamped out the raging pneumonic plague that broke out in the north-eastern region of China and saved millions of lives. He was accorded the honour to preside over The International Plague Conference, held immediately after the Manchurian Plague was eradicated, to review the measures taken and document the experiences of the epidemic for future reference. Deliberations of the conference were later published in a 500-page report, now a classic on epidemiologic studies,” stated Khairy in his keynote speech.

“Many practices, such as wearing face masks, quarantine of the infected and lockdown of cities, which are now considered as standard measures in containing the spread of the coronavirus, were protocols pioneered by Wu in the fight against the Manchurian Plague. In fact, Wu’s work to control the Manchurian Plague has been acclaimed as a milestone in the systematic practice of epidemiological principles in disease control,” he added.

Present were H.E. Ouyang Yujing, Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China to Malaysia, Prof Dr Zhang Xue, President of Harbin Medical University and Koh King Kee, President of Dr Wu Lien-Teh Education Society of Malaysia.

Meanwhile, the distinguished panel of speakers included Dr Shan Woo Liu, the great-granddaughter of Wu serving as an Associate Professor of Emergency Medicine at Harvard Medical School; Prof Dr Zhang Fengmin, Vice Director of the Wu Lien-Teh Institute of Harbin Medical University; Dr Balvinder Singh Gill, Head of Special Resource Centre, Institute for Medical Research of Malaysia; Dr Yvonne Ho AM, the great-grandniece of Wu serving as the Board Director of Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Radiologist; Prof Dr Stephen Baker, representative of the Institute of Therapeutic Immunology and Infectious Disease of the University of Cambridge; Prof Dr Victor Hoe, Head of Department of Social and Preventive Medicine of University of Malaya and Dr Kyle Renard Burton, Resident Physician of the John Hopkins Hospital for Department of Emergency Medicine.

To learn more, check out the YouTube channel of Dr Wu Lien-Teh Education Society or email to: wlteducationsociety@gmail.com .


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