International Leprosy Association -
History of Leprosy

  • International Leprosy Association -
    History of Leprosy


    Dr Ma Haide

    Status Physician
    Country China


    Dr Ma Haide (George Hatem) (1910-1988)

    Excerpted from Terence J Ryan MD “Ma Haide (1910-1988): A Dermatologist to Emulate” International Journal of Dermatology 28.6 (1989): 413-4.

    Dr Ma Haide (George Hatem), member of the Standing Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, Senior Advisor of the Ministry of Public Health, President of the China Leprosy Control and Research Center, internationally renowned medical expert, and exemplary member of the Chinese Communist Party died on October 3, 1988, in Beijing, at the age of 78. …

    Ma Haide, as he is known in China, served a population far larger than any of us have had to think about: a population of 1.09 billion people, who, on numerous occasions during the past 50 years have experienced warfare, famine, flood, and great economic difficulties, which have allowed poverty, starvation, and disease to take an enormous toll from time to time. …

    Ma Haide was born in 1910 to Lebanese parents in Buffalo, New York, and in 1926 he enrolled at the College of Education, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He attended medical school at the American University of Beirut from 1929-1931. From 1931-1933, while living in Geneva, he wrote a thesis on the Wassermann reaction and then traveled to China, in 1933, in part to study tropical disease, with the intent to return to the US. In fact, while working in Shanghai in the American St Luke’s Hospital and the British Leicester Chinese Hospital, he found venereology and dermatology so interesting that he became a dermatologist and wrote his first paper on the occupational disease of chrome dermatitis in Shanghai in 1933.

    In 1936, disillusioned by the gangster society in Shanghai (which he encountered through his interest in venereology), he was encouraged by the honorary chairman of the Chinese People’s Republic, Madame Soong Ching Ling, to travel with Edgar Snow to Northwest China (Snow's book The Red Star Over China is still a best seller). Snow wrote that Dr Ma once said “I didn’t spend my old man’s money learning to become a VD quack for a gangster society. Maybe these people up North are interested in putting an end to the whole business. I want to see what they are like.” During the war he served in various medical capacities including work in military medicine, surgery, public health, teaching, and in an advisory capacity to the medical services of the army by appointment of Chairman Mao. Snow wrote “he was a Missionary, the only one from America who volunteered for service on the other side of the river.” He was highly regarded by the top revolutionary leaders, and in addition to his role in public health, he served as an adviser to the Foreign Affairs Group in the Party’s Central Community.

    … Ma Haide, having survived the difficulties of 1933-1947, participated in a nation-wide campaign against venereal diseases in China organizing, planning, teaching, and in full-time fieldwork. It was he who organized the relevant health programs and advised the governments, which resulted in the wholesale closing of brothels and the transfer of persons who were thought to be sources of infection so that they were otherwise employed in the fields or factories. Within 10 years, he was able to summarize the experience of the venereal disease eradication program in a paper that appeared in China Medicine in 1966.

    In 1953, he helped organize and participated in setting up the new Dermatology and Venereology Research Institute in Bejing to deal with the control of venereal disease, leprosy, and ringworm of the scalp as well as in training medical workers and conducting relevant epidemiological studies and research. During this period, he worked in various parts of the country, especially in the minority areas of China; it was not an easy job. The population at that time was 55 million, and there were many health problems, but by the end of the 1950s, the eradication of venereal disease was practically accomplished in China.

    … After analysis one sees that Ma Haide’s methods were first, to persuade governments; second, organize regional training centers; third, to make available cost-effective therapies; and fourth, to raise living standards and the cultural hygiene level of the people.

    If Ma Haide wrote this commentary, he would end by emphasizing the importance to China of the socialist community and social organization, which is a creative environment for higher living standards, improved nutrition, housing, education and literacy, birth control and population planning, communications and influence on personal relationships and family life in which he believed.

    The answers to the questions that Ma Haide might have posed to us have concerned philosophers and prophets throughout history. They concern the freedom of the individual, quality of life, and costs to individuals or to communities. …

    It was only a few years ago that many countries were still isolating patients with leprosy and depriving them of their freedom, but this is quite a few years after China, on the advice of Ma Haide, had abolished that policy.

    He received Belgium’s Damien Dutton Award in 1982, the Ordre de Ledre Commander, awarded by the president of Lebanon, the Gandhi International Leprosy Award in India in 1987, and the degree of Doctor of Science from the State University of New York at Buffalo in that same year. He received the Albert Lasker Public Service Award in the US in 1988, and the citation read “Dr Ma’s contribution can be compared in importance to the eradication of yellow fever and the bubonic plague, and as a model for the public health control of venereal diseases, they stand alone.”

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