Obituary: Dr Alfa Sa’adu

LSHTM was very sad to learn that Dr Alfa Sa’adu was one of the first four doctors to die from COVID-19 in the UK. Alfa Sa’adu, who died on 31 March 2020, was a Nigerian doctor who graduated in medicine from University College Hospital Medical School London in 1976, (where Mike Barer remembers his prowess in rugby) and obtained his MRCP as an SHO at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, London in 1979. He completed his PhD at LSHTM in 1988 under the supervision of Professor Keith McAdam based in what was the newly established Department of Clinical Tropical Medicine. Using the new human hybridoma techniques that had recently been established, he developed human hybridomas to human hepatitis B virus.

He then became a Consultant Physician in geriatric medicine and subsequently the Chief Medical Director of Watford General Hospital. Alfa Sa’adu started at Ealing Hospital NHS Trust in the UK on 1 February 2011 as Medical Director and Deputy Chief Executive. He served until September 2014, when he was appointed as the interim Medical Director/Responsible Officer/Caldicotte Guardian of the newly merged Integrated Care Organisation known as the London North West Healthcare NHS Trust. Although he left the Trust in 2015, he had continued working part-time at the Princess Alexandra Hospital NHS Trust in Welwyn.

Those who knew him from the Room 40 days in the mid-late 1980s remember his positive and cheerful personality and sense of fun. The many tributes paid to him illustrate how he then devoted nearly 40 years to the NHS, and highlight his sense of commitment and service. He was also an important figure in the Nigerian diaspora in the UK, including acting as Chairman, Kwara State Association of Nigeria (Kwasang UK).

Alfa is survived by his wife Diane and his son Dani, who spoke very movingly about his father in a piece broadcast on the BBC.

Professor Keith Mcadam, head of the Department of Clinical Tropical Medicine in which Alfa did his PhD said: “I remember Alfa very well and was delighted to bump into him most recently at the Royal College of Physicians, still looking very fit and distinguished, with that beaming smile. It was good to hear how highly he has been esteemed in Nigeria.”

His PhD days at LSHTM are memorable. He was a strong presence in Room 40 and he worked within the human hybridoma group, guided by Mary Locniskar, David Mudd and Ali Zumla. He also appreciated the mentorship of Alister Voller at the Zoo. The hybridoma clones that he propagated produced human monoclonal antibodies that attracted much interest at that time from the virology and immunology groups in Microbiology, including Mike Steward and Colin Howard.

Alfa’s clinical identity and leadership in Geriatrics, was based in northwest London and I’m sure his patients greatly appreciated his positive psychology and broad clinical expertise. His death is a stark reminder that front-line clinical roles, particularly in this COVID-19 era are risky and decisions about going back post retirement require courage and scrupulous attention to personal protection.

Melany Jackson, also in Room 40 at that time remembers Alfa as a smiling, positive force and fun.

Francisco Vega-Lopez, a fellow PhD student noted that: “Alfa was a great medical educator, very good friend, and an outstanding clinician. As several other people have remarked, he had no limits in his love for life and was a very generous medic, colleague, educator and friend.”

We send our sincere condolences to Alfa’s wife Diane and son Dani from colleagues who remember him warmly.

Below is a group photograph from 1987, in which Alfa is second from the left front, and Keith McAdam in the centre, with other members of the Department of Clinical Tropical Medicine.

Front row left to right: David McEniry, Alfa Sa’adu, Saroj Young, Hilary Long, Sue Sumners, Keith McAdam, Kathy Grant, Hazel Dockrell, Santosh Kaur, Anita, Ali Zumla.
Back row left to right: Willy Weir, Tony Hall, Mike Barer, Mary Locniskar, Mr Madge, Ron Behrens, John Raynes, Eldryd Parry, Neil Stoker, Peter Chiodini.

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