Venezuelan doctor and scientist Jacinto Convit, renowned for his development of a leprosy vaccine and a lifetime spent helping the poor, died on Monday at the age of 100.
Born in 1913 to a Spanish immigrant family and educated at a university in Caracas, Dr. Convit was moved by the stigmatization of leprosy patients and worked with them in the marginalized outskirts of the city as well as remote jungle areas.
“Dr. Convit became a popular hero in Venezuela due to his dedication to the poor and to patients with feared conditions,” said an announcement of his death on his website.
“Throughout his career, he never charged his patients.”
Dr. Convit’s work toward a vaccine for leprosy helped develop therapy against the tropical disease leishmaniasis. That led the Pan American Health Organization to declare him a “public health hero” in 2002. He was honoured with Spain’s Prince of Asturias Prize for scientific research in 1987, and also was named to France’s Legion of Honor.
He was continuing to oversee work toward developing a vaccine against cancers and published the last of his more than 300 scientific papers in 2013.
Dr. Convit founded Venezuela’s Institute of Biomedicine. A foundation bearing his name announced his death on Monday.
He also taught for several years in the United States, at Columbia University, Case Western Reserve, Stanford University and the University of Miami.
In 1987, Dr. Convit combined existing tuberculosis treatment and a bacteria found in armadillos to design a new vaccination against leprosy that became used worldwide.
Leprosy is a chronic infectious disease causing disfiguring skin ulcers and nerve damage in the arms and legs. Over time, it can cause inability to feel pain and the loss of parts of the extremities. The disease has long been stigmatized as incurable, with patients often shunned as outcasts.
Dr. Convit also discovered a vaccination against leishmaniasis, a tropical skin disease transmitted by sand flies that is associated with poverty and malnutrition.
The Venezuelan government nominated Dr. Convit for a Nobel Prize in 1988, but he did not win.
He continued working on the search for a cancer cure and published his last study in 2013 aged 100. “I don’t lose sleep over not winning the Nobel Prize, but I do over finding the cure for cancer,” he said.
His family confirmed his death in a short statement sent to media in Venezuela, without specifying the cause. “After 100 years of life and dedication to humanity via medicine, Dr. Jacinto Convit Garcia has passed away,” they said.
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