Barbara Hull (Date of Birth: 23rd May 1939)

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Barbara Phyllis Naomi Hull was born in Belmont, Trinidad on May 23rd 1939. She attended Providence Intermediate School and Bishop Anstey High School. During one of her school vacations, she worked in a medical laboratory and became fascinated with lab work from that first experience.

She worked at the Imperial College of Tropical Agriculture (ICTA) as a laboratory assistant and studied Zoology at Polytechnic Institute. After three years at ICTA, she left for Canada to pursue university studies. She graduated from McGill University in 1966 with honours in bacteriology and immunology.

At the Trinidad Regional Virus Laboratory, she gained interest in virology and researched the Trinidad Cocal virus for her master’s degree from McGill University (1969). She later worked at the Diagnostic Laboratory, Port of Spain. She focussed on public health issues for disease mitigation rather than mere diagnosis and set up monitoring systems with the Trinidad Public Health Laboratory using health centres and hospitals.

In the 1970s, she achieved effective immunisation programmes for the 1972 polio outbreak and discovered two new strains of Yellow Fever virus. At the Caribbean Epidemiology Centre, she co-ordinated Caribbean-wide surveys on the status of polio and was later involved in the Pan American Health Organization’s regional eradication programme. She was able to show for the first time that a rotavirus with seasonal incidence caused gastrointestinal disease in children during research for her doctoral studies at the University of the West Indies (1983).

Dr. Hull undertook work on HTLV-1 and HIV transmission and led efforts to standardise testing in the Caribbean. At the WHO she achieved global proficiency testing of all Polio Network Laboratories and contributed to the development of standardised methods and manuals. She also conceptualised similar ‘master plans’ for yellow fever and measles control. In 1986 she received the Medal of Merit from the Trinidad and Tobago Government.

To youngsters interested in pursuing careers in science, Dr. Hull advises, “All scientific findings, if well used, can benefit mankind. There is no better way to spend your life than in the pursuit of science – with a conscience.”