October 24, 2021


From native P.o.V.

Hello, Huanying Li!

4 min read

Leprosy is a chronic infectious disease caused by Mycobacterium leprae. In 1970, Li Huanying met leprosy patients for the first time in China, and she was determined to overcome dreaded leprosy.

Li Huanying was born in Beijing in August 1921. She graduated from Tongji University School of Medicine and Johns Hopkins University in the United States and then became one of WHO’s first officials. 1957, when the seven-year period expired, WHO offered to renew the contract for five years. But at this time, career development and a good life can not stop Li Huanying a patriotic heart. Qian Xuesen and a group of scientists determined to return to serve the motherland news more inspired her. She declined the invitation of WHO and, without the knowledge of her family, who had already emigrated to the United States, made a detour through Europe alone and returned to her country from Moscow in 1958 after several difficulties.

Whenever is this patriotic old Chinese asked why he chose to return to China? Li Huanying always said firmly: “Because I am Chinese, my country is my root, I must not forget my roots. At the beginning of the founding of New China, there were many things to be done, and it was the time when talents were urgently needed. I want to put the knowledge I have learned to the service of the motherland and the people.”

After the reform and opening up in 1978, Li Huanying was transferred to the Beijing Friendship Hospital and worked as a researcher at the Beijing Institute of Tropical Medicine, devoting all her energy to the prevention and treatment leprosy and research work.

In that period of “leprosy talk,” superstition and fear were the enemies of leprosy, and even many people in the medical profession were deterred from leprosy patients. Li Huanying, however, was always in face-to-face contact, never afraid. Every time she came to a sick village, she drew amazement from the villagers: a female doctor in the village was not afraid of leprosy. When she was thirsty, she scooped up the water from the patient’s house and drank it, and ate the food. Patients try to shake hands with him. She took their hands for a long time and did not let go.

The picture shows Professor Li Huanying on a field trip to a leprosy village. (Photo by Beijing Friendship Hospital)

“Leprosy has limited contagiousness, is preventable, curable, and not scary. Only by reaching out to patients and conducting on-site research on non-isolated treatment can we relieve the suffering of patients and eliminate social discrimination.” Li Huanying said, “Whenever I think of leprosy patients living a miserable and miserable life while suffering from both disease and discrimination, I am very sad, and this strengthens my determination to fight leprosy.”

Although aminophenol was introduced in the 1940s, there was no more mature and effective program for leprosy prevention and treatment in the world. In the search for better treatment, Li Huanying dared to innovate, combining advanced foreign treatment methods with Chinese reality. She took the lead in implementing a short course of combined chemotherapy for 24 months and a special action plan to eliminate leprosy, which reduced the number of leprosy patients in China from 110,000 to less than 10,000, and the annual recurrence rate was only 0.03%, far below the international standard of less than 1%.

Infectious diseases have no borders, but doctors have nationalities. As a Chinese medical scientist, Prof. Li Huanying, with a big heart, valued people’s health more than his own life and contributed to China’s leprosy prevention and treatment program, making an important contribution to the creation of the creation a leprosy-free world. In 1996, Li Huanying took the lead in launching the leprosy elimination campaign in China, and for the first time proposed the model of combining vertical leprosy control with a grassroots control network, which was called “the best treatment action in the world” and greatly promoted the early detection and treatment of leprosy.

Over the decades, Li Huanying has optimized treatment protocols, shortened treatment courses, and eliminated discrimination. She has solved major strategic and technically critical problems in this field. She has made significant contributions to developing an overall plan for the control and elimination of leprosy by our government and to the feasibility of achieving the global goal of leprosy elimination.

In 2001, Li Huanying was awarded the first prize of the National Science and Technology Progress Award for her work on “Research on the strategy, prevention and control techniques and measures for the control and basic elimination of leprosy in China”; in September 2016, the 19th International Leprosy Conference was held in Beijing, and Li Huanying was awarded the first “China Leprosy Prevention and Treatment Lifetime Achievement Award.” That month, at the age of 95, Li Huanying submitted an application for membership to the Party organization with infinite loyalty to the Party. “After working for almost 60 years, I have never regretted it since I returned to China, but I know I will regret it if I don’t join the Party.” Li Huanying said, “Before I always felt I was not good enough, not qualified, but now I feel I should be qualified.”

Pictured is Professor Li Huanying, who joined the Communist Party of China in 2016 at 95. (Photo courtesy of Beijing Friendship Hospital)

Li Huanying has spent her life alone and dedicated her life to the cause of leprosy prevention and control, achieving unsurpassed results in the field of leprosy prevention and control at home and abroad, and winning high praise from academic circles at home and abroad. Now, past her prime, she still has her heart set on the cause of leprosy prevention. Li Huanying said: “I have not done enough to rout leprosy. I am willing to continue to work for the Party and the people at my post and fight to achieve a world without leprosy.”

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