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Sunday, March 3, 2024

Tribute to a friend, brother and mentor

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Dr Abdoulie Jack (1950 to 2024).
MD (1975), MSc (1979), PhD (1989),
PG Dipl, Epidemiology (1996), FWACP (1997).

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By Prof Assan Jaye

The afternoon of 2nd January 2024, the second day of the new year, brought me shock, sadness, and devastation upon receiving the news of the demise of one of my closest friend and elder brother. The news was announced to me by her eldest daughter Dr Ramatoulie Jack from Manchester.  I was monitoring the state of Abdoulie’s health in the past weeks through frequent messages to his loving wife, Aunty Maimuna Jack, fondly called Aunty Fra, but the call from Ramatoulie with a crackling sobbing voice: “Uncle Assan, your friend is no more” sent a sharp current to my limbs to complete numbness.  

I first met Abdoulie in Kenya in 1977, when he visited me at a college I was attending for a pre-veterinary/Animal husbandry course, and he was accompanied by Prof Karre Lindqvist, a former lecturer of his at University of Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania and his friend Dr Vinand Nantulya. Both Vinand and Abdoulie had just graduated from Tanzania and were in Nairobi for a specialist course.  From there, my association and friendship with Abdoulie grew to an admirable level, and he has since been keen on seeing my professional development. As faith would have it, many years fast forward, the two friends of his, Prof Lindqvist and Prof Nantulya became my PhD supervisors at the International Laboratory for Research on Animal Health in Kenya following my Veterinary graduation in Nigeria. 

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Abdoulie’s interest to see me exploit my potential was not surprising as Abdoulie Jack was a personality who had ever wanted to impact on peoples lives and the trajectory of his professional development, achievements and friendly leadership acumen went on record to make him a foremost and an internationally recognised epidemiologist in the African continent.  Following his MSc in Community Health and PhD in Epidemiology from London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), Abdoulie headed the Epidemiology and Statistics Unit and was the first Medical Epidemiologist at Gambian Ministry of Health, Labour and Social Welfare. During his PhD, he received the Woodruff Medal – “Excellence in Medicine” for PhD thesis on Chemotherapy in Control of Urinary Schistosomiasis – A Primary Health Care Approach, awarded by LSHTM. In 1990, Abdoulie was recruited by the International Agency for Research on Cancer to be based at MRC, Fajara as the Principal Investigator and Project Leader of the Gambia Hepatitis Intervention Study (GHIS). He did phenomenal work in the Follow-up of selected cohorts of vaccinated and unvaccinated children to monitor antibody decay, breakthrough infections and evaluate vaccine efficacy with increasing age, culminating in the publications of several seminal scientific manuscripts including “Integration of hepatitis B vaccine in EPI in The Gambia (1994)” and “EPI vaccines-induced antibody prevalence in 8-9 year olds in The Gambia (2004)”. He established the cancer registry for long-term follow-up of two study cohorts. In 1998, Abdoulie joined the WHO Country Office in Gaborone, Botswana as a Medical epidemiologist; provided the technical support to the Ministry of Health, Botswana, to design and implement an integrated disease prevention and control plan. In 2003, he became Acting WHO Country Representative in Nigeria, whilst he was the Team Leader, WHO Expanded Programme on Immunisation.  In 2005, he was the Team Leader, EPI Inter-Country Programme for South-Eastern Africa WHO, Harare, Zimbabwe, when he Strengthened coordination of all EPI activities in the 18 countries of South-Eastern Africa. In 2008, Abdoulie reached the WHO Country leadership hierarchy and was appointed WHO Representative in Rwanda and in 2010, he was appointed the WHO Representative in Nairobi, Kenya until his retirement in 2014.

 Abdoulie has been an International member to several Committees but the two Committees that marked his professional life and afforded him opportunities to impact on Polio eradication are the membership to the  WHO/Africa Regional Certification Commission for Polio Eradication and to the WHO/EMRO Polio Regional Certification Commission. These international recognitions culminated in the phenomenal technical support he delivered to the Nigerian Federal Ministry of Health and the National Programme on Immunisation to determine strategic directions to improve immunisation services with emphasis on attaining the goal of eradication of poliomyelitis. It was a time when Nigeria, Sudan and Pakistan were hot spots for polio virus circulation and high level of anti-vaccine scare amongst sectors of populations.  I asked him one day, “How were you able to do this?”.  Abdoulie would give is handsome laugh and with humility, would answer, “Not me, it was a team”. That is the intellectual friend that has now made a void in my life; a man of humour, full of intellectual ideas that have breadth, humble to the core, a man who is kind to his neighbours, friends, family members and to anybody.  I once found him throwing jokes at his gardener and house-helps; a statement he once echoed then resonated and that is “we belong to each other and always do small things with love”. This was the kind-hearted gentleman whose true character was seen from humorous and respectful interactions with people who even could do nothing for him. A very charming gentleman par excellence who would endear to your heart and one would always reminiscence his joyful jokes.  Abdoulie was a caring husband and father who invested gracefully to see the success of his  kids: Dr Ramatoulie Jack is practicing physician in Saudi Arabia, Haddy Jack is an MBA public Administrator in UK, Sainabou is high level Architect in UK and Dr Modou Jack is recently graduated Gates-Cambridge PhD scholar on Environment and Climate. We extend our sympathy to Aunty Fra and his beautifully raised children and pray to Allah to give them the fortitude to bear this loss.

Abdoulie will ever be remembered as a celebrated public health scientist, honoured father, friend, brother and mentor whose major contributions nationally and globally deserve our adulation and would be archived in our lasting memories.  Abdoulie, May Allah pay you your kind heart, forgive your shortcomings and give you Arjanatul Firdaous as your final abode -Ameen.  Rest in Peace my brother!

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