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(1922 - March 13, 1998)
Born in Czechoslovakia
Year of Discovery: 1967
Revolutionized Tuberculosis Treatment - Later it was Found to Help AIDS Treatment
Karel Styblo was born in 1921 in what was then known as Czechoslovakia. This simple intersection of time and place would forever shape his future and ultimately give modern medicine one of its greatest heroes. In the 1945, not yet 25 years of age, Styblo found himself caught up in the chaos of World War II and was imprisoned at the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria. Mauthausen was built near an old stone quarry and prisoners were often forced to carry huge stones up the 186 steps of the "Stairway of Death." It was while imprisoned here that Styblo contracted a serious case of tuberculosis. The experience set the course for his future and, upon his recovery and release, he dedicated himself to finding a cure for this dreaded disease. Styblo went on to study medicine and developed a treatment protocol known as Directly Observed Treatment, Short-course (DOTS), which revolutionized the fight to control tuberculosis (TB) epidemics.
Tuberculosis is a life-threatening contagious disease. It is spread in a manner similar to the common cold, through the coughing or sneezing of infected individuals. It takes just a small amount of the TB bacteria to infect a second person. Tuberculosis can lay dormant for years, with infected individuals displaying no symptoms. Active TB patients, on the other hand, suffer numerous physical symptoms, including a persistent cough that yields discolored or bloody sputum, weight loss, fever, fatigue, chills, night sweats, and painful breathing. Untreated TB often results in a slow and agonizing death as the patient simply wastes away. Tuberculosis came to be known as the "Great White Plague" as it swept through Europe beginning in the 1600s. It continued to ravage Europe for over two hundred years, eventually spreading to the Americas as well. By the late 1800s tuberculosis was claiming the lives of one of every seven people in Europe and the Americas. Though now relatively rare in the developed world, TB is still one of the biggest killers in the developing world. In 2005 an estimated 1.6 million people died from tuberculosis - an average of almost 4,400 deaths each day.
The experience of defeating TB in Scotland honed both Styblo's confidence and determination to pursue the absolute eradication of tuberculosis. His first opportunity to test his DOTS method on a large scale came in Tanzania in 1978. The results were stunning. Cure rates in the pilot areas soared from just over 40 percent to close to 80 percent. Word of Styblo's success spread and his assistance was also sought in Benin, Malawi, Mozambique, Nicaragua, and other areas fighting TB epidemics. Styblo's DOTS program has been implemented worldwide and is the accepted tuberculosis treatment protocol of the World Health Organization (WHO) and other international public health organizations.
Karel Styblo continued his pursuit of eradicating tuberculosis throughout his life. In 1966 he became the Director of Scientific Activities for the Tuberculosis Surveillance Research Unit (TSRU). The TSRU performed a valuable service, studying the history and trends of tuberculosis, and estimating the impact of intervention measures. Styblo brought his DOTS protocol to such divergent locales as China, New York City, and India. The World Bank, in 1990, asked for Styblo's assistance in China. He helped launch a pilot program among 2 million Chinese in Hebei Province. The cure rates quickly doubled, eventually reaching a stunning 94 percent. The success spurred the World Bank to fund an expanded project, covering over half the country, which has now cured over 500,000 TB patients. In 1994 "Stop TB-Use DOTS" became the worldwide health community's catch phrase in the fight against tuberculosis.
Introduction by Tim Anderson
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Indian Journal of Tuberculosis noting an award to Styblo:
New York City's Commissioner of Health noting Styblo's influence on his career:
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