6th Sep 1887 - 3 Nov 1957

KEYWORDS:

VIRUS: a minute organism which multiplies only inside living host cells and which causes infection and disease

 

BACTERIOLOGIST: a scientist who studies bacteria (single-celled organism) which may cause infection and disease

Joseph Pawan
Caribbean Icons in STI Volume 1

Dr. Joseph Pawan was internationally acclaimed for the discovery of the rabies virus transmitted by vampire bats. He undertook numerous public health assignments and conducted research on tropical diseases in the 1940s.

Joseph Lennox Pawan was born in Trinidad on September 6th 1887. He attended St. Mary’s College and won an Island Scholarship in 1907. He attained bachelor’s degrees in medicine and surgery at Edinburgh University, Scotland, in 1912. He became an Assistant Surgeon at the Colonial Hospital, Port of Spain during World War I and was appointed a Bacteriologist.

Rabies killed several cows in 1925 and 13 people died in 1929. Though rabies was known to be spread by dogs, none of the victims were bitten by dogs. Pawan, J.A. Waterman, and H.M.V Metivier worked to isolate the disease. During research, a patient mentioned being bitten by a bat before becoming ill. Another researcher (Carini, 1913) had uncovered that vampire bats carried the disease and Pawan, knowing that bat bites were common in country districts, followed this lead. In 1932, he isolated the rabies virus from various bats including Desmodus rotundus. A vaccine was developed that saved many lives globally. Pawan was honoured as a Member of the British Empire in 1934. He became a consultant to the United States Government on rabies. He was invited to chair the World Health Organisation but declined on account of ill health. He died 3 November 1957, and the Pan American Health Organisation named him a “Hero in Health” in 2000.

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