Dr Thomas Nchinda, Diploma Tropical Public Health 1973 and MD 1975, is a retired Professor of Epidemiology and Community Health at the University of Yaoundé who also worked extensively at TDR and the World Health Organization Headquarters in Geneva.
He completed his MBBS at University College, Ibadan in 1963 and returned to Cameroon where he faced a resource-strapped medical setting. Working first as a Medical Officer at a regional hospital, he was soon promoted to the Director of Medical Services for the Federated State of West Cameroon.
Awarded a British Council Scholarship in 1972, Dr Nchinda chose to study the DTPH at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine before earning his MD by thesis in 1975. He recalls affectionately the friendships formed at the School.
“Four of us in the 1972-1973 DTPH Class became very good friends. We called ourselves for fun the ‘Gang of Four’ which included Dr Rolf Korte from Germany, Dr Gunnar Kvale from Norway, Dr Narayan from India, and myself. We read and worked together for one hour each day after classes especially from the second term onwards going over subjects that were not clear to all of us.”
“We did our revision together for the 1973 DTPH Examination. Rather surprisingly, all four of us were considered for the one Distinction at the 1973 examination with Dr Kvale given the award. We all did doctoral work afterwards and later in life became successful in different ways.”
“Kvale did a PhD in Norway and later became Professor in the University of Bergen. We met once during my visit to the University of Bergen to discuss Norwegian Government support for Leprosy research in AHRI in Ethiopia.”
“Korte did Human Nutrition studies and later became Director of the GTZ. We met many times in WHO during his visits there.”
“Narayan did a PhD in Public Health and Community Studies in MCH and became a Professor and one of the leading ‘voice of the voiceless’ bringing health, nutrition and MCH to the most disadvantaged communities in one of the States in India. We met again just once in Geneva during a scientific conference.”
Dr Nchinda recognises the importance of the School to his career as a research capacity strengthening expert, which saw him visit nearly every country in Africa.
“My degrees at the School helped me a lot. With my DTPH and particularly MD and strong Epidemiology training, I was recruited as Lecturer in the Medical School in Yaoundé, Cameroon in 1975 where I soon became Professor and Head of Department of Epidemiology and Community Health and was also responsible for all student research in the Medical School.”
“In 1983 I was recruited and worked in the Tropical Diseases Department of WHO/HQ where we helped build research institutions for tropical diseases research in developing countries and train their researchers to do tropical diseases research in these institutions for their own national needs and to join the international effort at controlling these diseases.”
“Some of the teachers at the School became my good friends. First, I found out later that it was through the recommendations of the late Dean Gordon Smith and the late Patrick Hamilton that helped clinch my recruitment to WHO/TDR Geneva.”
“Later, while with TDR Geneva, I worked with Professor David Bradley who became a member of one of TDR’s scientific groups reviewing our projects and he helped train some of my TDR grantees at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, for example Dr Mamadou Traore. Much later I came to work in Geneva with Professor Dame Anne Mills as one of our External Consultants. The School always welcomed and helped train our TDR grantees like Dr Lindi Makubalo.”
Indeed his proudest moments come from following the career progression of his distinguished former trainees, fondly referred to as ‘Professor Nchinda’s children’.
“On completion in London, Dr Traore returned to his native Mali and took up employment in his old Institute of Public Health. He was unexpectedly recruited to the EU to represent the UK Government in the Department collaborating on research with Developing Countries. On termination of his 2 year contract he returned to Mali and became Director General of Public Health.”
“Dr Lindi Makubalo became Director in the Ministry of Health in South Africa and was responsible for HIV/AIDS organization and control. She is currently Health Adviser in the South African Mission in Geneva.”
Other trainees under Dr Nchinda’s guidance included Professor Fred Binka, Vice-Chancellor at the University of Health and Allied Sciences in Ghana; London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine alumnus Professor Isabella Quakyi, founding director of the School of Public Health at the University of Ghana; and the late Dr Peter Ndumbe, also a School alumnus, who was Dean of the School of Medicine at the University of Yaoundé.
“It was a pleasure seeing many of my former TDR trainees, especially those who went through London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, emerge as great academic and scientific leaders in their countries, regionally and in the world.”
Dr Nchinda’s advice to current students is straightforward.
“Current students should work very hard to absorb as much knowledge as possible that will equip them for work in this world that continues to see parasitic diseases remain great scourges and newer viral diseases emerge and become scourges in the world.”
“I have now fully retired and, at my age, I wish the School to grow from strength to strength in furthering research training to scientists and researchers from Africa and other third world countries.”