Monday 16 December 2019

President hails Campile doctor's life-saving work in Africa

President Michael D Higgins with Dr William Howlett
President Michael D Higgins with Dr William Howlett

David Looby

President Michael D Higgins presented a Campile doctor with a special award on Wednesday for his work saving lives on the African continent.

Dr William Howlett is a specialist physician on tropical medicine and also a neurologist who has worked in Africa for almost 40 years. Dr Howlett received the Presidential Distinguished Service Award for the Irish Abroad from President Michael D Higgins at Aras an Uachtarain, and attended a gala dinner at Farmleigh House. The award recognises the service given to this country or to Irish communities abroad by those who live outside Ireland.

During the presentation President Higgins said: 'I am so pleased to welcome here this evening Dr William Howlett whose life's work has had such an immense impact on the continent of Africa. Prompted by a great humanitarian instinct Dr Howlett first travelled to Africa in 1980 in response to the severe famine in Karamoja, Uganda, a place I have also visited. That instinct later propelled him to spend much time in Tanzania making important contributions to global health and working tirelessly in the field of neurology in Africa.'

President Higgins said Dr Howlett's innate scientific curiosity, combined with enormous wells of compassion, have already left a profound legacy, as has his work as a mentor for young local doctors who are seeking to emulate his medical advances in Africa.

Dr Howlett's work included a breakthrough in the early diagnosis of AIDS and in the diagnosis of the causes of a disease called Konzo, which afflicted many Africans.

He has been instrumental in training a generation of young Africans in medicine in the Kilimanjaro Cristian Medical Centre (locally called KCMC) in Moshi, Tanzania.

'To so many of our diaspora, whether first generation Irish or of Irish descent, we owe an enormous debt of gratitude for the generous connection that they worked to preserve with us through the generations. Their support and encouragement, offered in so many ways, and throughout so many changing circumstances for this country, has helped to shape and craft the possibilities of the Ireland we inhabit today,' Mr Higgins said.

A past pupil of Good Counsel College, Dr Howlett was previously presented with the MGA Distinguished Graduate Award by the UCD School of Medicine and Medical Sciences in 2010. Having graduated from Good Counsel in 1964, and from UCD in 1970, he went on to work in Tanzania as a neurologist and has been published in Brain and The Oxford Journals. He has conducted extensive research on the disease, Konzo, and was the first to identify the role played in this disease by high dietary exposure to Cyanide from Cassava roots. Dr. Howlett has also published extensively on Aids and African Neurological related diseases. He was centrally involved in setting up a medical school in Moshi and has written a text book, 'Neurology in Africa'.

Dr Howlett's wife passed away when his Patrick was a child, she having also done voluntary work in Africa. Patrick is also a doctor who worked voluntarily in West Africa during the recent Ebola crisis. Dr Howlett is a brother of the late Bob Howlett who was manger of Campile Co-op for many years and a very well-known golfer in the New Ross Golf club, and husband of Bernie. Other family living locally are brothers Stephen (a retired neurologist), now living in Whitechurch and Michael (a retired GP now living Tinneranny), and sister Mary, President of the ICA in Ramsgrange. William played football for St. James GAA club and went on to represent Wexford County Seniors for two years until 1968. He was on the team that won the Sigerson Cup that year and with them toured the USA representing Ireland.

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