Laudatio of Professor Lechat by Dr. Wayne M. Meyers#

Michel Lechat teaching
When Dr Wayne M Meyers awarded the Damien-Dutton award for 2001 to Professor Michel Lechat of Belgium, he spoke of Professor Michel Lechat in the following terms:

“It was the renowned Belgian leprologist, Dr Franz Hemerijckx who introduced Dr Lechat to the rigors of leprosy work in rural tropical Africa. Then a medical student, in 1951 he crisscrossed the high-grass-lined paths of central Congo by bicycle, seeking out and treating leprosy patients with sulphone, the first effective drug for leprosy. With his wife Edith, he returned two years later as a physician and as the Medical Director at Iyonda leprosarium in the Congo equatorial forest. There, over a six-year period, he did pioneering clinical research on numerous poorly understood topics in leprosy. Many here today will remember that Iyonda Leprosarium was the setting for Graham Greene’s book A Burnt-Out Case, with a principle character modelled after Dr Lechat.

On his return from the Congo in 1960, Dr Lechat went to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore (where I first met him), obtained his doctorate in Public Health, and began his distinguished career as a research epidemiologist with the world as his laboratory.

In 1983 Professor Lechat became President of the School of Public Health of the Catholic University of Louvain and Director of the WHO Centre for research on the Epidemiology of Disasters. Of his approximately 330 scientific publication, more than 200 concern leprosy.

Today Professor Lechat is a highly regarded statesman serving in many capacities in, for example, the WHO, World Bank, United Nations, European Community, King Baudouin Foundation, Damien Foundation, and the National Academy of Science in Washington. He is the recipient of the Prix Broden Rodhain and the Gandhi International Award, and a member of the Royal Academy of Medicine (of Belgium) and of the Royal Academy of Overseas-Science. Among other officers, he has served as president of the International Leprosy Association and the International Leprosy Union.

In summary, Professor Lechat, for half a century has served the cause of leprosy – especially the patient with leprosy – successfully as a clinician, an academician, and now, if he will forgive the expression, as an elder statesman.”

(International Journal of Leprosy 70.1 (March 2002): 49-50)

Coat of Arms#

Michel Lechat received the title of Baron from King Albert II. in 1995. As his coat of arms, he writes, he "chose a NUT OF HYDNOCARPUS, wherefrom the CHAULMOOGRA OIL was extracted, that was used for centuries as a cure for leprosy, a well recognized perfectly ineffective drug. Thereafter, I was reproached by some colleagues for having chosen an ineffective drug instead of the new highly effective sulfone drugs."

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