A giant in the medical field has passed.
Prof Courtenay Bartholomew died on Friday night at age 89.
Bartholomew was a physician, scientist and author who impacted the medical field extending beyond T&T’s shores as he diagnosed the first case of Aids in the English-speaking Caribbean in 1983.
His death comes during the COVID-19 pandemic which has engulfed the world in sickness and death. The current pandemic comes 40 years after he was battling another pandemic—the Aids pandemic which left the world similarly terrified.
While alive, his peers described him as “selfless”, a “trailblazer” and a “pioneer” for his contributions to the medical field.
In death, similar commendations from different sectors continue to describe his momentous life.
The T&T Medical Association (T&TMA) in a statement said “Professor Bartholomew was a pioneer in medicine, not just for T&T but for the entire region, and a pillar in our fraternity for those who worked with him and especially an inspiration to many of us who had the fortunate opportunity to interact with him as a student. He will be sadly missed by the T&TMA and we express our heartfelt condolences to his family.”
Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh in a statement offered his condolences to Bartholomew’s family.
He spoke about his “trailblazing” research and “distinguished” career.
“In the early days of the HIV/Aids epidemic, Professor Bartholomew founded the Medical Research Foundation of Trinidad and Tobago (MRFTT), which is currently the largest HIV/Aids clinic in the country. The long-standing relationship between the Ministry of Health and MRFTT continues to this day. This partnership has redounded to the successful treatment of thousands of patients, bringing T&T within range of the achievement of the UNAIDS 90-90-90 HIV treatment target.”
He said Bartholomew’s passing has created an indisputable void in the medical field, and his leadership and insight will be greatly missed.
Former president of the St Mary’s College Past Student Union, Nestor Lambert said Bartholomew, who attended the college, has a great legacy that will live on as he was a “role model” not only for St Mary’s College students but also for the country as a whole.
Lambert said Bartholomew was inducted into the St Mary’s College Hall of Fame in 2003 for his outstanding contribution to the medical field and the Caribbean region and beyond.
Former education minister Dr Tim Gopeesingh said he was “filled with grief” at his death.
“I first met Professor Bartholomew at the POS General Hospital in 1973, as a young student, trainee, and intern in my final year of Medical School (UWI), where he was a lecturer in Internal Medicine. He was the perfect example of what a doctor should be— highly skilled, brilliant, very knowledgeable, thorough, and in-depth with every medical case.”
He described Bartholomew as a “giant of a man” highly decorated and winning global respect and acclaim, for his trailblazing, unmatched work in T&T’s and the region’s overall medical development, and especially in Internal Medicine.
Guardian Media reached out to his daughter Dr Maria Bartholomew who declined to comment as she said the family was in mourning. However, she did confirm that he died at 7 pm on Friday.
*According to the National Institute of Higher Education Research Science and Technology (Niherst) website, Bartholomew diagnosed the first case of Aids in the English-speaking Caribbean in 1983.
*He was founder and director of the Medical Research Foundation of T&T (MRFTT), he led HIV vaccine trials and research on cancer and retroviruses with US institutions.
*A member of the World AIDS Foundation Scientific Advisory Committee, he promoted public education on Aids. He was also an international bioethics adviser.
*Bartholomew was first reputed for his research on internal diseases. He researched scorpion sting venom and acute pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas). He completed one of the world’s largest country surveys on Hepatitis A and B in T&T (1982).
*He was the first local physician to receive membership of the Royal College of Physicians, London without examination.
*Bartholomew worked before gaining acceptance to the University College Dublin (UCD), Ireland in 1954. He interned at St Vincent Hospital and graduated in 1960 with an internal medicine specialisation.
*He received a speciality degree in gastroenterology (1964) and a doctorate in medicine from the National University of Ireland (1965).
*Returning to Trinidad, he became the first UWI lecturer in Medicine (1967) and later the first Professor of Medicine (1977). As the Honorary Consultant, Internal Medicine and Gastroenterology at Port-of-Spain General Hospital (a post he held for 20 years), he pioneered new approaches to diagnosing bowel diseases. He was an external examiner for the University of Ibadan, Nigeria and Visiting Clinical Professor at the Liver Unit, University of Miami and Royal Victoria Hospital, McGill University.
*For his outstanding achievements, he received UCD’s highest honour of Honorary Fellowship of the Faculty of Medicine (2004) and the International Human Retrovirology Society Award (1991).