Year of Birth: 1931
BIOETHICS: the discipline which deals with the moral issues in biological research and applications
RETROVIRUS: a virus which merges with the cell that it infects
GASTROENTEROLOGY: the branch of medicine dealing with the study of disorders affecting the digestive system
Caribbean Icons in STI Volume 1
Professor Courtenay Bartholomew diagnosed the first case of AIDS in the English-speaking Caribbean. Founder and director of the Medical Research Foundation of Trinidad and Tobago (MRFTT), he leads HIV vaccine trials and research on cancer and retroviruses with US institutions. A member of the World AIDS Foundation Scientific Advisory Committee, he promotes public education on AIDS. He is also an international bioethics advisor.
Professor Bartholomew was first reputed for his research on internal diseases. He researched scorpion sting venom and acute pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas). He completed one of the world’s largest country surveys on Hepatitis A and B in Trinidad and Tobago (1982). He was the first local physician to receive membership of the Royal College of Physicians, London without examination. He holds Fellowships from the Royal Colleges of Ireland, Edinburgh and London.
Courtenay Felix Bartholomew grew up in Port of Spain, Trinidad. He attended Nelson Street Boys’ RC School and St. Mary’s College, where he excelled in biology and chemistry. His dislike for physics, however, reduced his chance of gaining a science scholarship. He left school after Lower Sixth Form, intent on pursuing medicine. The dream was inspired by his admiration for Dr. Alwyn Francis and an uncle who was prevented from becoming a doctor due to racial prejudice in Canada.
Bartholomew worked before gaining acceptance to the University College Dublin (UCD), Ireland in 1954. He interned at St. Vincent Hospital and graduated in 1960 with an internal medicine specialisation. He received a specialty degree in gastroenterology (1964) and a doctorate in medicine from the National University of Ireland (1965).
Returning to Trinidad, he became the first UWI lecturer in Medicine (1967) and later first Professor of Medicine (1977). As the Honorary Consultant, Internal Medicine and Gastroenterology at Port of Spain General Hospital (a post he held for 20 years), he pioneered new approaches to diagnosing bowel diseases. He was an external Examiner for University of Ibadan, Nigeria and Visiting Clinical Professor at the Liver Unit, University of Miami and Royal Victoria Hospital, McGill University.
For his outstanding achievements, he received UCD’s highest honour of Honorary Fellowship of the Faculty of Medicine (2004) and the International Human Retrovirology Society Award (1991).
Professor Bartholomew has restored historic churches in Trinidad and authored several books on the Blessed Virgin Mary. He encourages students to “be good at whatever you do”. He notes that “teachers are there to guide and motivate” and advises good use of libraries. He urges budding scientists to “be inquisitive to want to learn more.”