Dr. Wu Lien-Teh (1879-1960) was a global medical icon in public health in the 20th century.
Born in Penang, Malaysia, he was a student of the Penang Free School. He was the first Malaysian and the top medical student of Cambridge University and at Emmanuel College, where he also obtained his PhD. He was among the first founders of the Anti-Opium Society in Malaya and eventually achieved the abolishment of opium in 1926. He was trained by 3 doctors who were Nobel Prize winners in medicine in England, France and Germany before returning to work in the Institute of Medical Research, Kuala Lumpur, where there is a gallery about his great pioneering work.
He was offered a position as Vice Director of the Tientsin Military Medical Hospital, China in 1907. In December 1910 there was an outbreak of a serious epidemic involving pneumonic plague in Manchuria and he and his small medical team were despatched by the Ching dynasty government to investigate the cause and bring the plague under control.
Dr Wu’s heroic medical work led to the halting of the outbreak after 60,000 lives were lost, which could have devastated China. By initiating the largest cremation in Chinese history and putting in quarantine measures and inventing the “Wu mask”, Dr. Wu helped in bringing the plague under control within 6 months. He subsequently was tasked to establish some 20 hospitals and research hospitals in China, thus he was known as the Father of Modern Medicine in China.
In 1932 he co-authored the first English book on “History of Chinese Medicine”. He also founded the China Medical Association in 1916. For his work on pneumonic plague he was nominated for the Nobel Prize for medicine in 1935 and he still holds the record as the first Malaysian to achieve such distinction.
He returned to Malaysia in 1937 and continued as a practicing doctor and was actively involved in civic and public health work in Ipoh until 1960. He retired in January 1960 and returned to Penang where he died of a stroke. The Times of London wrote “The world of medicine has lost a heroic and almost legendary figure”.