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"If I cannot work in such situations, what am I here for - answering e-mails, going to cocktail parties, and pushing paper?" 

Dr. Carlo Urbani, 2003


"Carlo Urbani, il sogno realizzato di un medico -senza frontiere!"
 
 Elisabetta Nardi - Egidio Ridolfo s.j.
 

 

Dr. Carlo Urbani (Castelplanio, Italy October 19, 1956 – Bangkok, Thailand March 29, 2003) was an Italian physician and the first to identify severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) as a new and dangerously contagious disease. His early warning to the World Health Organization (WHO) touched off a massive response that probably helped save the lives of millions of people around the world.

In 2003, Urbani was called in to The French Hospital of Hanoi to look at patient Johnny Chen, an American businessman who had fallen ill with what doctors thought was a bad case of influenza. Urbani realized that Chen did not have flu, but probably a new and highly contagious disease. He immediately notified the WHO, triggering the most effective response to a major epidemic in history. He also persuaded the Vietnamese Health Ministry to begin isolating patients and scre
ening travelers, thus slowing the early pace of the epidemic.

The World Health Organization has recognized that Dr. Urbani probably saved a large unknown number of lives,
because of his early detection of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.

Due to the work he did in Hanoi treating SARS infected patients, Dr. Urbani became infected with the virus himself. On March 11, as he flew from Hanoi to a conference in Bangkok, Thailand where he was to talk on the subject of childhood parasites, Urbani starte
d feeling feverish on the plane.

A colleague who met him at the airport called an ambulance. They sat in chairs eight feet apart until an ambulance arrived 90 minutes later, because its attendants stopped for protective gear first.


His Bangkok hospital room had been jury-rigged as an isolation ward, so his wife could only talk to him by intercom. Ms. Chiorrini saw him conscious just once. As his lungs weakened he was put on a respirator.


In a conscious moment, Dr. Urbani asked for a priest to give him the last rites, and according to the Italian Embassy in Bangkok, said he wanted his lung tissue saved for science.


After 18 days of intensive care, Carlo Urbani died on 29 March 2003 at 11:45 AM.
 

Urbani received his medical degree from the University of Ancona and worked for a time as a general practitioner, before starting a career in infectious diseases. He was a past president of the Italian chapter of Médecins Sans Frontières and was one of the individuals who accepted the 1999 Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of that organization. He was employed by the World Health Organization and based in Hanoi, Vietnam, where he mainly worked on combatting parasitic diseases, but was generally expert on infectious diseases. He was married and had three children.

His life and professional experience have been narrated by:


- Former WHO colleagues Marco Albonico and Lorenzo Savioli in the book "Le malattie dimenticate" ("Neglected diseases") published by Feltrinelli in 2004.


- Journalist Lucia Bellaspiga, in the book "Carlo Urbani - il primo medico contro la SARS" ("the first doctor against SARS") published by Ancora in 2005.


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