Who was Dr Wu Lien-teh? Google Doodle celebrates pioneering surgical mask inventor's 142nd birth anniversary
On Wednesday, March 10, Google honored Dr. Wu Lien-teh, the Chinese-Malaysian epidemiologist. The tribute was perfect given the social and medical crisis the world is facing today with the COVID-19 pandemic. An article by CNET reveals that Lien-teh created the surgical face covering that is believed to be the "forerunner" of the now widely used and reliable N95 mask. In order to highlight this achievement, Google dedicated its day's doodle to Lien-teh on what would have been his 142nd birthday.
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Who was Dr Wu Lien-teh?
As per NCBI, Dr. Lien Teh was born in Penang, Malayasia, on March 10, 1879. He began studying at Emmanuel College with the Queen's Scholarship, at the University of Cambridge when he was 17 and subsequently, earned his MD degree.
Dr Lien-teh was the first Chinese student to study at Cambridge University, going on to become the vice director of the Army Medical College in 1908 for his country's government. Back in 1910, there was a lethal epidemic in northwestern China and the doctor was asked to investigate the disease by his government - he determined it to be the pneumonic plague, which was very contagious.
The plague ultimately claimed around 60,000 lives but the number of lives lost would have been even higher without Dr Lien-teh interventions. He fashioned masks from cotton and used gauze as a filter for inhaled air. Furthermore, he was a leader in the sense that he made sure there were quarantine stations to help people. He also had buildings disinfected, demolished and replaced the old plague hospital. His measures helped eradicate the epidemic known as the "Manchurian plague" within months.
In 1935, Dr Lien-teh was also nominated for the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine -- the first Malaysian to be nominated, according to the CNET report. Dedicated to his work, he left behind the legacy of being a trailblazer in the field of medicine and doctor par excellence, ultimately succumbing to a stroke on January 21, 1960 at the age of 81. On January 27, 1960, The Times London said, “By his death, the world of medicine has lost a heroic and almost legendary figure and the world at large one of whom it is far more indebted to than it knows.”
The medical community has long since appreciated and paid tribute to the doctor's work and there are bronze statues of him erected at Harbin Medical University in Heilongjiang, China. There are also two streets in Malaysia named after him, one in Ipoh and another in George Town. Due to his service during the plaque, he is dubbed the 'Father of Modern Medicine' in China.