Doctor, researcher of endemic blackfoot disease dies at 98

Taipei,  Tseng Wen-ping (曾文賓), a Taiwanese doctor whose research into blackfoot disease helped eliminate the disease in Taiwan, passed away at home on Sunday aged 98, Hualien Tzu Chi Hospital said Monday.

The hospital, which Tseng headed for 10 years, has set up a memorial for the late doctor that will remain in place until Thursday and will host an academic seminar on Dec. 20 focusing on Tseng’s research, said the superintendent of the hospital, Lin Shinn-zong (林欣榮).

Of his research, Tseng is best known for his work on blackfoot disease, a severe disease that affects the blood vessels in the lower limbs and results eventually in gangrene. Patients experience extreme pain and the only solution is amputation.

The disease, endemic to southern Taiwan, was first observed in coastal townships in the 1950s and Tseng, who was an attending physician at National Taiwan University Hospital (NTUH) at the time, joined a research team in 1958 to try to find the root cause of the illness, Lin said.

According to Lin, Tseng saw over 40,000 inhabitants who lived in areas where the disease was prevalent and eventually concluded that the illness was likely caused by arsenic poisoning, since areas where the well water had high levels of the toxic element had more patients with the disease.

His findings were published in the American medical journal Environmental Health Perspectives in 1968 and were the basis of the World Health Organization’s decision to limit permissible arsenic levels in water, said Lin.

His research, alongside that of other doctors working on the disease, also spurred the Taiwanese government to allocate NT$800 million to install tap water systems in the coastal areas where the disease was most prevalent, Lin said.

Aside from Tseng’s work into blackfoot disease, he also worked in raising awareness of high blood pressure and heart disease, inspired by his studies at Harvard University in the late 1960s, according to Lin.

His research into cardiovascular diseases in Taiwan provided some of the first data ever collected on the topic in the country, said Lin.

In 1986, Tseng left his position as NTUH deputy superintendent to work at the newly opened Hualien Tzu Chi Hospital, and he became superintendent of the hospital three years later. He retired from the position in 1999 and was then named as an honorary superintendent.

“He was a role model for those of us in the medical community,” Lin added.

 

Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel

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