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He waged a war on tropical disease.. let's finish the fight; DAVID LIVINGSTONE THE LEGACY; Scientist hails medical breakthroughs.

Byline: Michael Barrett Professor of biochemical parasitology, Glasgow Universit

As we prepare to celebrate the bicentenary of the birth of David Livingstone in a few weeks' time, we might ask if there is anyone in the 20th century to whom we can compare him?

In truth, there is no one figure that matches this extraordinary man.

Livingstone was a missionary, an explorer, a naturalist, a doctor, an author, an expert linguist and anti–slavery freedom fighter.

His books on Africa's wonderful wildlife had every bit as much impact on Victorian readers as David Attenborough's TV shows do today.

As an explorer, the regions Livingstone ventured into were as unknown as the surface of the Moon. His feats were met with awe reminiscent of that for Neil Armstrong's moon landsing.

His combined role as preacher and anti–slavery campaigner put him on a par with Martin Luther King.

Not bad for a mill boy from Blantyre, just south of Glasgow on the banks of the Clyde.

From the age of 10, Livingstone rose early for a 6am start in the mill.

Opened by David Dale in the 1780s, the Blantyre mill was, for that time, a liberal place.

Children were allowed an education, albeit for just two hours per day after putting in a 14–hour stint in the mill.

Livingstone learned to read and write and, above all, devoured books about science.

His father Neil, however, held strong religious views and only agreed to allowing young David to pursue a scientific education if it was as a medical missionary with a view to saving "the heathen".

In 1836, Livingstone started medical studies at the Andersonian University in Glasgow, which later became the University of Strathclyde.

After a couple of years he joined the London missionary society before setting off to southern Africa in 1841.

He spent the next 32 years opening up the "Dark Continent", where he died in 1873.

The interior of Africa was largely unknown before Livingstone.

There were no roads and it was impossible to take horses into the interior because a disease transmitted by biting tsetse flies killed them, along with any other domestic animals.

So Livingstone walked. His total journeys took him over 30,000 miles.

He survived attacks by lions, dodged angry crocodiles and had ferocious battles with angry tribesman who believed he was involved in slavery.

It was during his travels that the missionary witnessed the horrific consequences of the slave trade.

Introducing "Christianity, Commerce and Civilisation" to Africa, he believed, would allow the trade in minerals and agricultural produce to replace the trade in people.

His travels aimed to find trade routes to the interior. He crossed the continent from west to east following the path of the Zambesi river. It was here he made his most famous discovery – a mile–wide waterfall whose great plumes of spray led to its being termed Mosi–oa–Tunya, "the smoke that thunders".

Livingstone named them Victoria Falls after his queen.

His trans–African trek is one of the greatest acts of human endurance.

His writings and passion stimulated a generation to oppose the slave trade and in 1873, the year he died, the slave market in Zanzibar was closed, largely due to Livingstone having persuaded the British government to intervene.

He learned African languages and befriended African people, treating their diseases and educating them in agriculture.

He survived largely because of his medical knowledge. He knew quinine could cure malaria which felled most other European explorers in Africa.

He was, of course, full of other parasites. Crossing the Kalahari, he boasted of having "drunk water swarming with insects, thick with mud and putrid from rhinoceros urine and buffalo dung".

Bathing in lakes infested with tiny parasitic worms called schistosomes means he almost certainly had a disease called bilharzias, which probably caused his death.

A generation of Scottish doctors, inspired by Livingstone, went on to discover the causes of many of the diseases of the tropics.

Today, we look set to eliminate several of these diseases and research in Scotland's universities remain preeminent in the global fight.

What more fitting tribute to Dr Livingstone in his bicentenary year to finally turn the tide on tropical disease?

He was a mix of Attenborough, Armstrong and Luther King


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Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Geographic Code:60AFR
Date:Mar 3, 2013
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