Lives of the fellows

Hugh Stott

b.22 May 1913 d.22 November 1996
MB BChir Cantab(1938) MRCS LRCP(1938) DTM&H(1940) MD(1948) DIH(1953) DPH(1954) MRCP( 1965) FRCP(1974)

Hugh Stott, known as ‘Bill’, was the sixth in an unbroken line of doctors. He trained at Peterhouse and Guy’s and started his professional life as a doctor in the colonial medical service, practising in an Ethiopian refugee camp in Northern Kenya. He became the sole doctor in an area of 1,700 square miles on the slopes of Mount Kenya, and was subsequently superintendent of Nakuru Hospital. Whilst in the Kenya Medical Service, he curtailed an epidemic of bubonic plague by offering a shilling to anyone who brought him a rat tail, and looked after the prisoners from the Suk rebellion. He always deeply regretted that many of these tribesmen were hanged. In 1948 he completed his MD thesis on kwashiorkor, a piece of work on which Trowell drew extensively for his classic book. By 1952 an increasing interest in clinical research and in the diseases of occupation led him to join the Labour Department. In the next eight years, he identified that many workers involved in the spraying of sisal with organophosphate insecticides were being poisoned and established the prevalence of lung diseases in both sisal workers and gold miners. In each case he implemented the appropriate preventive measures.

He was also responsible for the health of detainees in the Mau Mau camps, and through traditional public health detective work, discovered that a typhoid epidemic in one such camp was due to prisoners drinking each others urine as part of their initiation ceremony.

In 1958 he examined Jomo Kenyatta whilst he was in detention. His characteristically meticulous records make interesting reading in the light of Jomo Kenyatta s subsequent career as the first president of Kenya. By an interesting quirk of fate his father had looked after Gandhi whilst he was in detention in India.

In 1955 he met Wallace Fox, who shared his interest in tuberculosis. Their collaborative work led to his succeeding Fox as the director of the conjointly run WHO/MRC/Indian Medical Research Council Tuberculosis Chemotherapy Centre, Madras, where out-patient treatment of tuberculosis was pioneered and where he worked from 1960 to 1966. Based thereafter at the MRC Tuberculosis Unit at the Brompton Hospital, he helped conduct epidemiological studies on the prevalence of tuberculosis in East Africa. During the course of these studies, he travelled widely throughout East Africa, and so was able to keep in touch with the East African people for whom he had great admiration and love. One of the many touching incidents during these epic journeys (in 1970 alone he travelled 18,000 miles through Uganda) was when after 30 or more years he returned to the district in which he helped to stop bubonic plague. At a local meeting (he sought and got the help of locals in his work) an old man got up and said surely you are the rat tail doctor who helped us get rid of our plague. After agreeing that he was indeed the rat tail doctor he was suitably honoured.

During these years his unrivalled knowledge of tuberculosis meant that he was frequently asked by WHO and others for his advice, and he and his colleagues found time to publish extensively on the subject.

On his retirement in 1978, he used his knowledge of tuberculosis to campaign on behalf of badgers, a species he thought to be wrongly accused of spreading TB to cattle. He was a familiar figure walking his pet sheep in the lanes of Sussex, and until just before his death, tended his six acre badger wood. He is survived by an extensive clan, to all of whom in the last years of his life he related ever more closely.

Robin Stott

[Brit.med.J., 1997,314,1627]

(Volume X, page 471)

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