Dr. Jacinto Convit (1913-2014)

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<ul><li><p>Am. J. Trop. Med. Hyg., 91(2), 2014, pp. 435436doi:10.4269/ajtmh.14-0316Copyright 2014 by The American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene</p><p>Tribute</p><p>Dr. Jacinto Convit (19132014)</p><p>On May 12, 2014, Jacinto Convit, MD, died in Caracas,Venezuela at the age of 100. Dr. Convit was a major figure inthe history of leprosy and parasitology research. Although bestknown for his fundamental and lasting contributions to thestudy of Mycobacterium leprae, the causative agent of leprosy(Hansens disease), his impact on research into many parasiticagents and the field of immunotherapy was significant.Dr. Convits professional career covered a period of over</p><p>70 years. It began in 1938 when he received his doctorate ofmedicine degree from the Universidad Central de Venezuelain Caracas. At that time his home country of Venezuela was arural, poor, and disease-ridden country in which any personsuspected of suffering from Hansens disease was stigmatizedand condemned to isolation. The conditions under whichthese patients were confined at Leprosaria, together withConvits extraordinary human sensitivity, played a key rolein his lifelong crusade against stigmatization of leprosypatients. At age 23, in the era where no cure was availablefor this feared disease, Convit (Figure 1) decided to devotehis life to developing a cure for these patients and decidedto move into one of the largest leprosaria of Venezuela, theLeprosy Clinic of Cabo Blanco. His first goal was to endprejudice and exclusion condemning this disease, an objectivethat he achieved soon after taking over the National Director-ate of Leprocomiums, when he convinced the government tofree the patients from isolation. His work helped change theleprosy control measures in Venezuela, replacing compulsoryisolation with ambulatory treatment.During these tough years, Dr. Convit also volunteered as a</p><p>physician in other leprosy clinics around the country anddevoted a great amount of time to study the diverse clinicaland epidemiological aspects of leprosy. He managed toinspire and form a small team of medical students, pharma-cists, and nurses that devoted day and night to seeking a curefor patients (Figure 2). At first, the only resource availablewas Chaulmoogra oil, a poorly effective option that hadsevere nauseating effects when taken orally and which wasvery painful when administered intramuscularly or as subcu-taneous injections. This led Convit and his team racing to finda suitable therapeutic option, a goal that would soon beachieved after proving the efficacy of sulfones and several ofits derivatives on leprosy in the early 1940s.One of Convits major achievements was the creation of</p><p>regional public health dermatology services (PHDSs)throughout the country, which allowed him not only to imple-ment ambulatory treatment of leprosy patients, but also toprovide health education and the control of contacts. Theseregional services progressively expanded their range of activ-ities to include other endemic diseases such as leishmaniasisand onchocerciasis and were replicated as models and inte-</p><p>grated into national health programs of several other coun-tries in Latin America.In 1960, the World Health Organization (WHO) commis-</p><p>sioned Dr. Convit to implement a drug development andsurveillance program for the treatment of several parasiticdiseases, and to lead the Cooperative Center for Drug Evalu-ation in the Americas. Later in 1971, he was appointed byWHO as the Director of the Cooperative Committee for theStudy and Histologic Classification of Leprosy, and in 1973was appointed Director of the Pan American Center forResearch and Training in Leprosy and Tropical Diseases(WHO/PAHO). In addition, he was also appointed as a Mem-ber of the WHO panel of experts who helped draft the Reportof the Expert Committee in 19621967 and 1972.Dr. Convit was also renowned for pioneering in the field of</p><p>immunotherapy by developing in the mid-seventies a success-ful model of immunotherapy for leprosy combining purified lep-rosy bacilli obtained from the nine-banded armadillo (Figure 2)and the powerful cell-mediated immunity Bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG) vaccine as an adjuvant. Such a model was alsoapplied to the treatment of leishmaniasis, an approach that hashelped thousands of patients have access to therapy duringshortages of antimonials and with a far less cost and compara-ble efficacy.Jacinto Convits academic career was extraordinary. He</p><p>began his teaching career in the Department of Tropical Med-icine at the Universidad Central de Venezuela, and laterjoined as a full-time Professor at the Department of Derma-tology of this same University. In 1976 he founded the fellow-ship training program in Dermatopathology and in 2000 hefounded the Masters course in Epidemiology of Endemic Dis-eases. He also contributed to the creation of the NationalInstitute of Dermatology, and in 1984 founded the Institute ofBiomedicine, a state-of-the-art research institution devoted tobasic science investigations and public medical service for der-matological and other tropical diseases. He pursued additionaltraining in Dermatology, Epidemiology, and Biostatistics atColumbia, Case Western Reserve and Stanford Universityand was a visiting Professor at Stanford and the University ofMiami. He published more than 300 original articles.As a skillful clinician with a superb clinical insight, he con-</p><p>tributed greatly to the study and classification of a plethora ofdermatological illnesses. He was the first person to describethe malignant pole of American cutaneous leishmaniasis nam-ing it anergic or diffuse cutaneous leishmaniasis and alsowas included among the authors who first described the rareand peculiar pigmentary disorder Erythema DyschromicumPerstans (ashy dermatosis). However, his contribution tomedicine and infectious diseases was far wider than his partic-ular interest in leprosy and leishmaniasis. He studied, wrote,and lectured extensively on many endemic diseases suchas systemic and subcutaneous mycoses, lymphatic filariasis,onchocercosis, and intestinal parasitosis. Even in his finalyears, Dr. Convit asked all of his collaborators and friendsto carry one last and ambitious project, to extrapolate hislifelong experience in microbial immunotherapy models to</p><p>Address correspondence to Alberto E. Paniz Mondolfi, 55 ParkStreet, PS656, New Haven, CT 06511. E-mail: alberto.paniz-mondolfi@yale.edu</p><p>435</p></li><li><p>the cancer world. There is a lot we have to learn aboutimmunity and cancer, and bugs may be holding a clue forprogress in this field, he once stated in his final years.Dr. Convits prominence within the field of Tropical Med-</p><p>icine was acknowledged by a series of highly prestigiousawards, including the Prince of Asturias Prize in science andtechnology, Frances Legion of Honor, The Medal Healthfor All awarded by the World Health Organization (WHO),the Abraham Horwitz Prize for leadership in Inter-AmericanHealth, the Armand Frappier Medal, and the Alfred SoperAward and Hero of Health medal awarded by the PanAmerican Health Organization. He was also included amongthe 65 Caring Physicians of the World by the World Med-ical Association.Over the years, he held a number of academic posts at dif-</p><p>ferent institutions and chaired at numerous international meet-ings. He was elected president of the International LeprosyAssociation, which he led for a decade (19681978); and washonorary member of the American Society of Tropical Medi-cine and Hygiene, the Royal Society of Tropical Medicineand Hygiene, the American Dermatological Association, the</p><p>Society for Investigative Dermatology, and a founding memberof the International Society for Tropical Dermatology.Dr. Convits scientific legacy includes not only his outstand-</p><p>ing achievements in Tropical Medicine, chemotherapy, andimmunotherapy of infectious diseases, but also his contribu-tion to the careers of many others. He trained an importantnumber of doctoral students, postdoctoral fellows, and under-graduate researchers who are now spread at academicresearch institutions around the world. In addition, he alsotrained generations of public health inspectors and physicianswho now play an important role as health policy decisionmakers and spokespersons around the globe. His door wasalways open, and it was not a surprise to come into his houseand see him having lunch with his patients.One of Dr. Convits great influences was on a group of</p><p>young scientists who were keen to apply their skills in immu-nology and epidemiology to an important problem of devel-oping countries. He reveled in learning about the new scienceand generously shared his vast clinical knowledge with every-one. This group became IMMLEP, the immunology of lep-rosy group at WHO, which was so successful at exchangingideas, data, and reagents that it inspired the creation byWHO, United Nations Development Program (UNDP), andthe World Bank of the Special Program for Research andTraining in Tropical Diseases.He had a great insight and understanding for people and</p><p>treated everybody as equals, always with a mix of fondnessand great respect. For his patients, he had a special gift fortouching their hearts as well as their skin and conveying howmuch he cared about each of them. He was a humanitarian inevery sense of the word.Training under Dr. Convits mentorship was with no doubt</p><p>not only an educational, but an inspirational and exciting expe-rience for those of us fortunate to work with him. He practicedwhat he taught as he worked until his last day of life. Hisresearch and mentorship activities are only a partial legacy ofhis extraordinary accomplishments. His true legacy lies in therole model he set as a husband, father, teacher, friend, andabove all as a physician whose life revolved around the care ofhis patients. With his quiet, modest, and perseverant character,he will never be forgotten. We all feel a great sense of loss nowthat he is no longer with us. We have lost not only a greatscientist, but a mentor and very dear friend.</p><p>ALBERTO E. PANIZ MONDOLFIDepartment of Laboratory MedicineYale University School of MedicineNew Haven, Connecticut; and</p><p>Instituto de BiomedicinaLaboratorio de Bioqumica/FundacionJacinto Convit Caracas, Venezuela</p><p>BARRY R. BLOOMHarvard School of Public HealthDepartment of Immunology and InfectiousDiseases and the Department of GlobalHealth and PopulationBoston, Massachusetts</p><p>This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of theCreative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricteduse, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided theoriginal author and source are credited.</p><p>Figure 2. Dr. Jacinto Convit and collaborators at the LeprosyClinic of Cabo Blanco (Image: Jacinto Convit Foundation).</p><p>Figure 1. Dr. Jacinto Convit in his Laboratory at the Institute ofBiomedicine in Caracas, Venezuela handling a nine-banded arma-dillo, the animal model used to obtain large quantities of the unculti-vable leprosy bacillus for vaccine development (Image: JacintoConvit Foundation).</p><p>436 PANIZ MONDOLFI AND BLOOM</p><p>http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/</p></li></ul>