Epidemiologist pays tribute to Dr Wu Lien-Teh after winning award

EPIDEMIOLOGIST Dr Wan Kim Sui became the first recipient of the Dr Wu Lien-Teh Award for Best Student in Doctor of Public Health, Universiti Malaya today.


The establishment of this award was made possible through a collaboration between Dr Wu Lien-Teh Society and Universiti Malaya, the oldest and most prestigious university in Malaysia, when they signed a Memorandum of Agreement on 6 July 2021 virtually.


The award was named after Dr Wu, who was credited for inventing the surgical face mask to fight the contagious Manchurian Plague in China in 1910-1911. The face mask then was made of cotton and gauze.


This award will be presented annually to Universiti Malaya, Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) candidates deemed to be the most outstanding student of the year.


Dr Wan posing with his prizes.


“I am truly honoured to receive this inaugural award. While I feel elated, I am humbled as what I have done or achieved is relatively insignificant as compared to Dr Wu Lien-Teh.


“Nevertheless, I will take this recognition as an inspiration for me to work harder, and hopefully contribute to public health and the society,” Dr Wan said after receiving the award, which earned him a gold medal, RM1,000 cash prize and a certificate.


Dr Wan is a strong advocate for improving type 2 diabetes patients’ health.


He has written more than 30 media pieces in English, Bahasa Melayu and Mandarin.


His excellent leadership qualities were evident when working in the UMMC Covid-19 Surveillance Room in 2020. He coordinated and published an article describing the implementation of a Covid-19 surveillance programme for healthcare workers in a teaching hospital.


Prof Dr April Camilla Roslani, the Dean of Faculty of Medicine, Universiti Malaya, thanked the Dr Wu Lien-Teh Society for choosing to support UM’s DrPH programme in this manner and also congratulated Dr Wan for being the inaugural award recipient.

Dr Wu


Dr Wu, she said, was born in Penang and was an alumnus of Penang Free School. He later won a Queen’s Scholarship to attend Cambridge University. After training at St Mary’s London, and the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, he initially practised as a physician in Malaya but subsequently emigrated to China.


She added that Dr Wu gained prominence for his role in tackling the Manchurian pneumonic plague of the 1900s. Dr Wu was the first Malayan to be nominated for a Nobel Prize.


“It is, therefore, fitting that an award in his name is for excellence in the field of Public Health, a field which promotes and protects the health of people in the communities where they live.


“Dr Wan has demonstrated academic excellence, but more than this, he embodies Universiti Malaya’s POISE values, balancing the pursuit of knowledge with compassion and empathy.


“You have made us very proud. We hope you will go on to win further accolades, but more importantly, make meaningful advancements to planetary health.


“Moving forward, we hope that this award will encourage healthy competition among our DrPH trainees as they seek to fully realise their potential,” she said in her speech.


(From left): A. Prof Nik Daliana, A. Prof Rafdzah, Prof Wong Li Ping, Prof Shahrul, Prof Moy Foong Ming, Prof Noran Naquiah, Dr Wan, Prof Dr April Camilla, Mohamed Ismail, Prof Hoe, Ronald and Ho Chee Peng (representatives from the society).


Also present at the award ceremony were Dr Wu Lien-Teh Society adviser Tan Sri Dr Mohamed Ismail Merican, Prof Dr Shahrul Bahya Kamaruzzaman, the deputy Dean (postgraduate), Faculty of Medicine; and Prof Dr Victor Hoe Chee Wai Abdullah, head, Department of Social and Preventive Medicine, Faculty of Medicine.


Dr Ismail said today marks a special day not only to celebrate the inaugural event but also to acknowledge that 62 years ago, on January 21, 1960, Dr Wu collapsed from a stroke at his home in Penang. He was 81 years old.


Dr Ismail, who is also the former Health director-general, added that Dr Wu was a highly respected public health physician and an internationally acclaimed plague fighter in the medical fraternity.


“Not only was he the first Malayan student who graduated from the University of Cambridge in Medicine, he was also the first nominee from Malaya to be considered for the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1935.


“He was also an avid activist in fighting against the opium trade when opium infiltrated communities in Malaya, in promoting primary education among girls, establishing debate societies and libraries and fighting against gambling and spirit farms,” Dr Ismail said when delivering his speech on behalf of the society’s president Datuk Seri Dr Anwar Fazal.


Dr Ismail said Dr Wu is once again remembered during the Covid-19 pandemic as a plague fighter over a century ago with his invention of the face mask, a forerunner of today’s modern N95 mask.


Indeed, he had written an autobiography called The Plague Fighter. Its second printing was launched last March.


Dr Wu became even more internationally known when he appeared in google doodle during his birthday on March 10, 2021.


Last year, the Penang Institute set up a Dr Wu Lien-Teh Herb Garden in its compound in Jalan Brown, George Town, to let more people know about his research on herbal medicine. Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow was present to take part in a tree-planting ceremony held in conjunction with the event.


To commemorate the legend, Chow said a residential area in Penang was named after Dr Wu as Taman Wu Lien Teh, and also a road was named after him as Jalan Dr Wu Lien Teh.