International Leprosy Association -
History of Leprosy

  • International Leprosy Association -
    History of Leprosy


    Dr Robert Greenhill Cochrane

    Status Medical Missionary, Medical Researcher
    Country United Kingdom


    Robert Greenhill Cochrane (1899-1985) was a renowned British leprologist.

    Cochrane was born in Pei-Tei-Ho, China, the third son of missionary parents. He received his medical qualification from the University of Glasgow in 1924. The same year, he spent a short time at St Bartholomew's Hospital, London, and obtained the Diploma in Tropical Medicine from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. He was then appointed Medical Secretary to the Mission to Lepers (later The Leprosy Mission) and relocated to India, where he would spend much of his working life. He worked under Dr Ernest Muir in Calcutta (now Kolkata) and established himself at the leprosy asylum at Purulia, Bengal. He also spent time at Bankura. He returned to Glasgow and obtained his MD in 1928, and became Member of the Royal College of Physicians of London.

    He travelled to all the leprosy institutions in India and Burma, contributing to a world leprosy survey. According to Stanley George Browne, Cochrane was critical of the institutions run by the Mission to Lepers in India, and following this survey, he severed ties with the Mission. On 24 June 1929 he succeeded Frank Oldrieve as Medical and General Secretary of BELRA (now LEPRA), and continued in this role until 1935, travelling in Africa and the West Indies. He attended the Leonard Wood Memorial Conference on Leprosy in Manila in 1931. The conference led to the establishment of the International Leprosy Association (ILA), and Cochrane was made the first Secretary-Treasurer of the newly formed ILA.

    From 1935 to 1944, Cochrane was chief medical officer at the Lady Willingdon Leprosarium in Chingleput, Madras. He became adviser in leprosy to the State of Madras, and later worked in the General Hospital, Madras, as well as Vellore Christian Medical College and Hospital, where he was instrumental in obtaining support to upgrade the institution. In 1945, Cochrane began studies with sulfone derivatives, and was the first to use dapsone in the treatment of leprosy, laying the groundwork for treatments still used today.

    In 1951, Cochrane returned to England and resumed the role of Medical Secretary of BELRA. He also became technical medical adviser to the American Leprosy Mission and consultant adviser in leprosy to the British Ministry of Health, and founded the Leprosy Research Trust (later renamed the Leprosy Study Centre), with support from the Wellcome Trust. A collection of 16,000 histopathological slides assembled by the Leprosy Research Trust is now located in the Hospital for Tropical Diseases, London.

    Cochrane was President of the International Leprosy Association from 1965 to 1968, and presided over the Ninth International Leprosy Congress in London in 1968. In 1966, Cochrane returned to India, where he worked in Vadathorasalur, Madras. His first wife, Ivy, died soon after they arrived. At the invitation of Dr Martha Jeane Shaw, who had admired his work from afar, he travelled to Tanzania in 1969. They married and worked together under the African Inland Mission from 1969 until Cochrane's retirement in 1972.

    Cochrane died in Norristown, Pennsylvania, at the age of 85, survived by his second wife and the three children of his first marriage.

    He received many honours for his work, including Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George; India's Kaiser-i-Hind medal in gold, first class; and the Damien-Dutton Award in 1964. The Robert Cochrane Fund for Leprosy, administered by the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, was established to provide bursaries to young leprosy researchers in his honour. The Cochrane Annex at the Slade Hospital, Oxford, is also named for him.


    ‘Obituary: Robert Greenhill Cochrane.’ International Journal of Leprosy Volume 54, Number 1 (1986):109-19.

    International Journal of Leprosy, Centennial Festskrift edition, Vol 41, No 2. 1973.

    Banerjee, A. 'Dr Robert Greenhill Cochrane CMG MD FRCP DTM&H: leprologist par excellence.' J Med Biogr 4.3 (1996): 137-40.

    Browne, Stanley George. ‘Obituary: Robert Greenhill Cochrane.’ The Lancet Volume 326, Issue 8452 (1985). Pages 457-8.


    Cochrane wrote three major books on leprosy and published extensively on most aspects of the disease.

    - Leprosy in India: a Survey. London: World Dominion Press, [1927].
    - Leprosy in Europe: the Middle and Near East and Africa. London: World Dominion Press, 1928.
    - Leprosy in the Far East. London: World Dominion Press, 1929.
    - A Practical Textbook of Leprosy with a foreword by George R. McRoberts. London: Oxford University Press, 1947.
    - Cochrane, R G and T Frank Davey, Leprosy in Theory and Practice. Bristol: John Wright, 1959.
    - Also Biblical Leprosy: A Suggestion Interpretation. Great Britain: Tyndale Press, 1961.

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