UN doctor dies of new respiratory disease he first identified

29 March 2003 – Dr. Carlo Urbani, a United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) expert on communicable diseases, today died of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) - an emerging health threat which he first identified.

The 46-year old medical professional worked in public health programmes in Cambodia, Laos and Viet Nam while based in Hanoi, where he first noted the outbreak of this new disease in an American businessman who had been admitted to a hospital.

Because of Dr. Urbani's early detection of SARS, WHO says, global surveillance was heightened and many new cases have been isolated before they infected hospital staff. In Hanoi, for example, the SARS outbreak appears to be coming under control.

Voicing deep sadness over his death, WHO Director-General Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland said Dr. Urbani's life "reminds us again of our true work in public health," and urged all to "pause for a moment and remember the life of this outstanding physician."

Pascale Brudon, the WHO Representative in Viet Nam called Dr. Urbani "a wonderful human being" and said all who worked with him were "devastated."

Describing the dedication of her colleague in the face of SARS, Ms. Brudon noted that, "Carlo was the one who very quickly saw that this was something very strange. When people became very concerned in the hospital, he was there every day, collecting samples, talking to the staff and strengthening infection control procedures."

Dr. Urbani, who was educated in Italy, leaves behind a wife and three children.

Related Stories