Profile of Mathuram Santosham’s life and work published

Johns Hopkins Public Health Magazine feature story "At Home on the Reservation".

Theme(s):
Infectious Disease Prevention

From "At Home on the Reservation" - by Jim Duffy - Johns Hopkins Public Health Magazine Summer 2016

Something was different about many of the children at the jam-packed marketplace in Kathmandu, Nepal. They had big, distended stomachs and grisly skin infections. The air of sickness about them was disconcerting, even to a 5-year-old. Flora Wilfred must have noted how Mathuram, the youngest of her three children, was studying the scene around him that day in 1949. She told him: “You must one day become a doctor and help as many of these children as possible.”

Little “Mathu” would do that—and more.

Mathuram Santosham would become a physician, find his way to the U.S. and spend 36 years working with Apache and Navajo Indians. Over the years, he would stop deadly diseases like Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) and meningitis by proving the effectiveness of vaccines and treatments. His advances would spread worldwide to mind-boggling effect:

Oral rehydration therapy (ORT) treatment for diarrhea has saved an estimated 50 million lives. Santosham conducted a key field trial on the White Mountain Apache Reservation in Arizona that proved its effectiveness to a skeptical medical community. His studies also helped demonstrate that infants would get better faster if they ate food during their illness, overturning a then-common practice in diarrheal care.

Santosham was one of the first researchers to demonstrate the effectiveness of a vaccine against Hib that is now used around the world. By 2020, it will have saved an estimated 1.5 million lives.

Santosham, who stepped down on April 30 after 25 years as the founding director of the Center for American Indian Health at the Bloomberg School, was awarded the 2014 Fries Prize in honor of his accomplishments. The prize is awarded to “the individual who has done the most to improve health” around the world.

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