Lien Jih-ching – The Lancet Infectious Diseases

The eminent Taiwanese entomologist, who greatly contributed to malaria control and understanding of vector-borne diseases, died on Feb 16, 2022

Lien Jih-ching, a renowned Taiwanese entomologist, malaria researcher, and public health specialist, passed away on Feb 16, 2022, at the age of 96 years.

Lien was popularly known as Dr Mosquito in Taiwan, thanks to his work on malaria. Taiwan achieved malaria eradication, according to WHO, as early as 1965, and Lien reportedly had an important role in eradicating the disease from the country. Also, he reportedly identified and named 29 of approximately 140 mosquito species present in Taiwan.

Although media reports and social media sources did not specifically highlight Lien’s childhood and initial education, a report in Taiwan news said that Lien joined the epidemic prevention workforce of the Taiwan government after completion of his school education. He, however, reportedly received a doctorate in medical science from Nagasaki University, in Japan.

According to a report by Taipei Times, Lien started working on mosquitoes at an early age. He was just 15 years old when he started his initial mosquito-related research, working part-time at the Taihoku Imperial University’s (currently known as National Taiwan University, based in Taipei) Tropical Medicine Research Institute.

Lien worked with Japanese entomologist Omori Nanzaburo in generating evidence for the prevention and treatment of dengue fever. When an outbreak of dengue fever hit Taiwan in 1942, out of Taiwan’s total population of 8 million at the time, nearly 5 million people had dengue infection. Lien himself also suffered from infection with dengue virus at that time, and the experience had a strong impact on his later life. His experience as a patient of dengue prompted him to work more extensively on mosquitoes and other insects.

To eradicate malaria from Taiwan, Lien developed a team of researchers that, under his leadership, conducted various studies relating to mosquitoes and malaria and took up necessary steps to eradicate the disease. Under the leadership of Lien, Taiwan became the first country across the world to have WHO certification for becoming malaria free in 1965. However, after the eradication of malaria from Taiwan, Lien shifted his concentration towards dengue fever.

“Malaria eradication, studies relating to dengue, and mosquito species discovery—Professor Lien did phenomenal work [in] these fields. He also did extensive research work with respect to prevention and management [of] tropical diseases,” commented Swapan Jana (Society for Social Pharmacology, Kolkata, India). “I’ve followed his research for a long time—he will always be remembered for his work to combat mosquito vector-borne diseases”, Jana told The Lancet Infectious Diseases.

“Professor Lien was an outstanding scientist with a decent heart,” said Tsai Kun-hsien (College of Public Health, National Taiwan University, Taipei, Taiwan). “His death is a huge loss for the country. For me, I lost my mentor in research, teaching, and practicing [of] vector control. Professor Lien’s work not only contributed to malaria control in Taiwan and Africa but also promoted global health with the One Health approach.” Kun-hsien continued: “Professor Lien and I have been doing research and teaching together for a long time. He was a down-to-earth kind of guy and always conscientious about his studies”. He also remembered that Lien did not rely on others in routine works such as specimen collection and classification; he (Lien) liked to think and solve problems by himself.

Lien’s age could not stop his quest for work. He kept on working as a leader of the research teams that went to different parts of the globe, assisting the governments of various countries to tackle diseases transmitted by mosquitoes, said media reports. To assist São Tomé and Príncipe in controlling malaria and training public health staff, Lien reportedly carried out missions in the country, even during his 80s.

Echoing the media reports, Kun-hsien said that Lien practiced “what he preached by going to the endemic areas in Africa even at the age of 80. There he led the young generation to work in the hope of eliminating malaria in São Tomé and Príncipe in his lifetime”. Lien’s contributions in São Tomé and Príncipe reportedly helped reduce the incidence rate of malaria in the country from nearly 50% in 2003 to 1 01% in 2015, and the country has had no death related to malaria since 2014.

In 2011, Lien received government recognition for his work, as the presidential third-class Order of Brilliant Star; also, for his contributions in São Tomé and Príncipe, Taiwan’s ministry foreign affairs awarded him, in 2016, the Grand Medal of Diplomacy.

Media reports and social sources did not specifically reveal the cause and location of Lien’s death nor any details about his family members.

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