Emeritus Professor Sai Kit LAM

Medical Specialities: Clinical Virologist/Research Consultant, University of Malaya and Senior Fellow, Academy of Sciences Malaysia
Location: Petaling Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia

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Emeritus Professor Sai Kit LAM

Dr Wu Lien-Teh is Lam Sai Kit's first cousin once removed.



Dealing with the deadly plague at the height of winter in Manchuria, China, in 1910-1911 and without personal protection equipment, N95 masks, and a biosafety lab must be a daunting task for plague fighter, Dr. Wu Lien Teh. I should know having a small taste of dealing with the deadly emerging Nipah encephalitis among Malaysia pig farmers in 1998-1999.

Both plague and Nipah encephalitis are zoonotic infections, the reservoir of plague being the tarabagan marmot and the flying fox in the case of Nipah. Back then, Malaysia was not equipped to handle such a highly pathogenic virus. At least we had a fairly well equipped lab, unlike Dr. Wu Lien Teh who had to do autopsies in the deceased homes, worked in a lab with no running water and grew the deadly bacteria at lab temperature kept warm with a big wooden stove. Fortunately, he had the use of a microscope whenever there was electricity!

The present outbreak of COVID-19 is a good time to recall the hardships that Dr. Wu must have endured, and to appreciate his contributions to medical science. Besides taking care of severely ill patients, he had to take on the role of epidemiologist, bacteriologist, pathologist, public health officer, all single-handedly. He understood very well the risks he was taking in trying to contain the outbreak, but this did not deter him from the task at hand. He initiated the concept of public health measures such as isolation, containment, mitigation, and even designed simple masks made with gauze and cotton. The legacy left behind by Dr. Wu lives on in our fight against COVID-19.

Dr. Wu managed to bring the plague epidemic to a close at the end of April 1911, a mere 5 months after the outbreak started in Manchuria. As for COVID-19, the end is nowhere in sight and we are still struggling to fight the pandemic despite international collaboration and all that modern science and technology has to offer.

This virus hunter is humbled by the work of Dr. Wu, his uncle, whom he vaguely remembers meeting in Ipoh in the early 1950s following his return to Malaysia.


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