Professor Emeritus Dato CP Ramachandran (6 June 1936 – 12 January 2019)

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Friday, 18 January 2019

By Professor John Horton, former RSTMH Board Member, Vice-President (2005-2007) and Honorary Fellow.

Cherubala Pathayapurayil Ramachandran (CP to all who knew him) was born on 6 June 1936 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaya. He was the second child of Mr and Mrs KKM Nair who were school teachers and worked tirelessly for the education of local children.

It was on one rural trip with his father that CP first became acquainted with filariasis. During the Japanese occupation of Malaya, he and his siblings were taught by their parents, and CP then went on to study at St John’s Institution on Kuala Lumpur.

Moving on to university, he had to go to India as there were no universities in Malaya at the time. He studied Biological Sciences at Madras Christian College and on graduation wanted to continue to postgraduate studies. Indian degrees were not recognised anywhere and he set out to the UK, with the blessings of his parents, a new suit and little money.

Professor CP Ramachandran

Arriving in London and without a promise of a postgraduate place, he set about finding an appropriate course. CP was extraordinarily lucky to get accepted for a Diploma in Medical Parasitology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, at which point his career as a scientist took off. His initial laboratory research was conducted at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine focusing on laboratory transmission of Brugia malayi.

After failing to get Brugia infections establised in Mansonia mosquitoes, he decided to try to infect other mosquito species available in the insectarium. To everyone’s surprise he managed to maintain infections in Aedes and the laboratory infection model, now used around the world, was published in 1960, the first of many major publications in CP’s career.

By 1962, CP had returned to Malaysia as a research fellow at the Institute of Medical Research in Kuala Lumpur working, of course, on filariasis. His interest there had been further encouraged by experiences in India. Over the next 15 years his focus remained academic as he built an extensive network of colleagues and experts in the field. At the same time he also became an administrator as Dean of Biological Sciences at Universiti Sains Malaysia.

As an indication of his work ethic, he published at least 50 papers, one third on subjects other than filariasis. By the end of the 1970s, he was an established figure in filariasis research and in 1979 was seconded to WHO/TDR Geneva, being responsible for research strengthening and the establishment of Centres of Excellence in the WHO regions. This was combined with work on filariasis through the various WHO committees.

His unbounded enthusiasm and existing knowledge catalysed research on the two filarial infections, onchocerciasis and lymphatic filariasis, building networks of research and field workers in the endemic countries and enthusing others who had little experience of the diseases. His tenure in TDR saw major breakthroughs in the treatment and management of filarial disease, and the establishment of international control programmes.

The demonstration of the efficacy of ivermectin and its subsequent donation by E Merck for onchocerciasis was one such breakthrough. However, the greatest monument to CP’s dedication must be his support for and implementation of the Global Alliance to Eliminate Lymphatic Filariasis (GAELF).

He guided the initial trials, drove through a World Health Assembly resolution and established the management mechanisms for countries. This programme has since become the largest public health activity in the world reaching hundreds of millions of people at risk of infection. The ongoing efforts and the undoubted successes are a monument to his vision and incessant drive to get things done.

CP retired for WHO in 1996, but at the age of 60 he still had many years of activity left. His dedication to the filariasis cause meant that he continued close involvement in the management of GAELF and attended the tenth GAELF last year in 2018.

He also contributed to academic life in Malaysia being the Professor of Medical Parasitology at Universiti Putra Malaysia and appointed Professor Emeritus at Universiti Sains Malaysia in 2009.

His many awards both at home and internationally are a recognition of a successful and eventful life, and he will be missed by all those who have worked with him.

Professor Emeritus Dato C P Ramachandran (6 June 1936 – 12 January 2019), RSTMH Local Secretary 1974-79 and Honorary Fellow since 2003.