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WHO Goodwill Ambassador's Newsletter For The Elimination Of Leprosy

TRIBUTE: Professor Ji Baohong

Dr. Yo Yuasa, medical advisor to the Sasakawa Memorial Health Foundation, mourns the passing of colleague and friend Professor Ji Baohong.

Professor Ji Baohong

One of the top-most experts on the chemotherapy of leprosy as well as Buruli ulcer died in Paris earlier this year from cancer. Professor Ji Baohong was my valued working partner as well as a close personal friend for nearly 30 years.

My first contact with Dr. Ji was in the late 1970s, when he spent some time at Kyoto University in Japan as a research professor under Professor M. Nishiura. Professor Nishiura was a close advisor to the Sasakawa Memorial Health Foundation (SMHF), of which I had become medical director in 1975.

Born in 1936, Dr. Ji worked for many years at Zeng Yi Hospital in Shanghai. It was there, singlehandedly, that he developed an excellent mouse footpad laboratory for leprosy research, having had little direct contact with world-renowned experts in the field such as Dr. Charles Shepard of the U.S. or Dr. R.J.W. Rees of the U.K.

In 1989, he was invited by the World Health Organization to join the Leprosy Unit under Dr. S.K. Noordeen and serve as secretary of the THELEP (Therapy of Leprosy) Steering Committee. In 1994, after five years in Geneva, he moved to Paris at the invitation of Professor Jacques Grosset to join the Faculty of Medicine Pitie-Salpetriere as a research professor, as well as to become a member of Fondation Raoul Follereau, one of the founding members of the International Federation of Anti- Leprosy Associations (ILEP).

I had several occasions to work with Dr. Ji each year from the late 1980s up to 2003, either at WHO meetings or at ILEP meetings. I also had a chance to travel extensively with him in Vietnam, Cote d'Ivoire, and Madagascar. His greatest professional support to me came at an ILA (International Leprosy Association) Technical Forum that, as ILA president, I convened in Paris in February 2002, six months ahead of the 16th International Leprosy Congress (ILC) in Salvador, Brazil. This Forum was held in place of a meeting of the WHO Expert Committee on Leprosy, which was long overdue but which WHO refused to organize at that time. I believe the conclusions and evidence-based recommendations that emerged from the Technical Forum, which later became the recommendations of the 16th ILC, truly contributed to shaping current and future global leprosy activities in the 21st century.

Leprosy chemotherapy has now reached a critical stage, with measures being prepared to counteract a gradual increase in resistance to Rifampicin, one of the drugs used in multidrug therapy (MDT), as well the formulation of a shorter and more effective MDT regimen. Professor Ji had been expected to lead these efforts, so his loss will be keenly felt not only by chemotherapy specialists, but also among leprosy workers globally.

Doug Soutar, ILEP General Secretary, noted, "Dr. Ji was one of those rare people who was able to combine his technical and scientific expertise with a genuine empathy for those affected by leprosy and for the health worker in the field." He is survived by his wife in Paris, a son and his family in the U.S. and another son and his family in China.