Wanda Blenska Wanda Blenska

Lepra’s pioneering female scientists

11 February 2021

We look back with an enormous sense of pride at all Lepra’s workers since the inception of our charity, a full 97 years ago.

And today, we choose to highlight our female scientists whom we supported; those dedicated pioneers who worked selflessly with people affected from leprosy whilst carrying out research into a cure.

Of all those women scientists from the 1950s through to the mid-1980s whom Lepra supported, Dr Wanda Blenska was one of the outstanding research scientists of her time. Lepra funded her research laboratory in Buluba, Uganda, sending out all the necessary lab equipment so that her excellent work had a chance to flourish and transform the whole settlement into a modern therapeutic and training centre that became world-renowned. Lepra also funded Wanda to attend training sessions in Europe, which was a great stimulus to her work, and her influence spread across the leprosy community.

Wanda Blenska in her laboratory

“Wanda Blenska has had a great influence on the development of modern methods of treating leprosy. Thanks to her thousands of people were cured and, in admiration of her caring attitude and lifelong devotion, the local community called her the ‘mother of  leprosy'"

 

However, there are other women scientists who went out to help people affected by leprosy, whom we sadly know very little about - but they are worth mentioning, simply because they are highly-educated pioneers dedicated to helping in the treatment of leprosy through Lepra.

Miss Low was in Bunyonyi, Uganda in 1951 as a biochemist, compiling records and training others as laboratory assistants. We also know of a Dr M. Maclean, who was sent out to Nigeria in the summer of 1947 to gain experience in leprosy work before going to Sierra Leone. 

One woman we do know about is Sister Carine Weterman, a lab technician in Malawi from 1971 to 1984. Her quality control and her ability to get on with everyone meant that all aspects of laboratory work improved nationally, which was vital for successful research.

“It is to her personal credit that LEPRA's laboratory work in Malawi has become outstanding in the eyes of our peers and that it enabled LEPRA to introduce WHO/MDT, without delay or much difficulty, in Malawi in 1983.” 

 

And then we come to the marvellous Dr Patricia Rose, working in Georgetown, Guyana between 1975 and 1985. Guyana was the very first country to use multi-drug therapy entirely thanks to Dr Rose’s own initiative - although she would insist that any success is collaborative: it is no single scientist’s work.

“It still gives us all a tremendous thrill to be able to assure our patients that they only require six months’ treatment (or a few years – in the case of lepromatous patients)! Of course, we are not magicians and cannot restore damaged eyes or limbs to their pristine state. But we can guarantee complete protection from deformity to those who come for treatment before they are disabled.” - Dr Patricia Rose

Dr Patricia Rose

Dr Rose continued to serve after leaving Guyana, mostly in a consultancy capacity, on a number of medical boards in England, as well as being a clinical consultant for Lepra, a member of its advisory board and on the executive committee. She travelled extensively in India, Bangladesh and Brazil to help in the prevention of disease there. She wrote many papers and was an editor for Leprosy Review.

All these women are high-achievers and have driven forward the improvements in the treatment of leprosy. But Lepra is happy to record that their success is based on collaboration with colleagues. And we are equally happy to record that our funding has enabled that success.


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