Legacy of Marleen Boelaert
Marleen started her career as a doctor in remote areas of Sudan and realised that for some diseases affecting poor people little progress had been made since many decades and that the progress made did not reach those most in need.
Today we are battling a pandemic of a disease that nobody had ever heard of just over one year ago, but already several effective vaccines are available, to some at least. For diseases like sleeping sickness (human African trypanosomiasis or HAT) and kala-azar (visceral leishmaniasis or VL) progress has been slower but great progress has been made over the past decade. Less than 10 years ago, HAT was treated with a drug that killed up to 10% of those taking it.
Thanks to the relentless efforts of Marleen and people she inspired, HAT can now be treated with a non-toxic single dose oral drug. On the Indian subcontinent tens of thousands each year were suffering from kala-azar, a deadly disease, without proper access to diagnosis and treatment. Now the disease is under control, primarily because of rapid diagnostic tests and treatment made available at the lowest levels of the public health system, again with a major contribution from Marleen.
Professor Boelaert was the head of ITM’s Department of Public Health from 2011-2014. She sadly passed away in June, 2020. In her honour, ITM has set up the Professor Marleen Boelaert Fellowship Scheme to support grants and research into neglected tropical diseases in DRC.