Lives of the fellows

Salih Yassin Salih

b.27 September 1942 d.27 April 2009
MB BS Khartoum(1968) MRCP(1972) DCMT Lond(1973) MD Khartoum(1982) FRCP(1985)

Salih Yassin Salih, professor of medicine at the University of Khartoum, Sudan, was a superb physician and an outstanding clinical scientist. He was born in Omdurmah, Sudan, the son of Yassin Salih Babekir, a merchant, and Halima Elzubair Taha, a housewife. He was educated at Omdurmah. As a student, he was a follower of Ismail al-Azhari, who led Sudan to independence and was the first prime minister, knew him personally, and participated in several demonstrations and rallies. This experience helped shape Salih’s centre-left political views.

He had a distinguished undergraduate career at the University of Khartoum, obtaining six prizes and several distinctions in major subjects. He joined the staff of the department of medicine and was sent to Bristol for postgraduate training, bringing him under the influence of Alan Read [Munk’s Roll, Vol.IX, p.440], a formidable figure in British medicine, who became his mentor. He easily obtained his MRCP and went to the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, where he passed his diploma in clinical medicine of the tropics with distinction and was awarded the Frederick Murgatroy prize.

He returned to Sudan as a lecturer in the department of medicine and progressed smoothly to professor of medicine in 1982, then the youngest professor in the university. He was elected dean of the faculty of medicine and shepherded the faculty through a difficult political period.

A personal tragedy struck in 1992. His daughter, Hanan, a medical student, was left brain dead following a severe asthma attack, after a nurse accidentally pulled an oxygen tube from her ventilator. Salih courageously faced the situation and took her to England. He then emigrated to Saudi Arabia, to provide his daughter, who was in a persistent vegetative state, with the best possible nursing care. As a father, he had to be certain he had done everything for her. He remained in Saudi Arabia, as head of the department of medicine at the King Fahad National Guard Hospital, for three and a half years, and finally returned to Sudan with her coffin.

On returning to Sudan, he became vice-chancellor of the National Ribat University, charged with establishing this new, semi-private, institution. He put all his tremendous administrative skills and energy into the role, and Ribat is now one of the best universities in Sudan. He then left his baby university to take on the difficult post of president of the Sudan Medical Specialization Board. After four years, he returned to the University of Khartoum as a humble professor of medicine, teaching students and doing rounds with the same dedication he showed at the start of his career.

Salih was held in high esteem and was well respected by his juniors, as well as his peers and was elected to the post of president of the Sudan Association of Physicians. A keen observer and excellent researcher, he published important papers on louse-borne relapsing fever, giardiasis, schistosomiasis and hepatocellular carcinoma. He published two books, on medical rounds and medical diagnosis, and was the first to publish books based on Sudanese patients.

He was a cultured man. He published his own autobiography, which was distributed a few months before his death. In the book he asked God for an easy and quick exit. He died suddenly early in the morning with all of his family around him. He was survived by his wife, Amal, and four children, two of whom are in the medical profession.

Suliman S Fedail

[Brit.med.J.,2009 339 3023]

(Volume XII, page web)

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