In memoriam: Dr Annik Rouillon, MD, MPH (1929–2015)

In memoriam: Dr Annik Rouillon, MD, MPH (1929–2015)

Dr Annik Rouillon, MD, MPH, former Executive Director of The Union and one of the foremost leaders in 20th century public health, passed away on Monday, 13 July 2015 at the age of 85. Serving as both Director of Scientific Activities and Executive Director during her 36-year career, she worked tirelessly as one of the central figures of the organisation until her retirement in 1992.

Born in 1929 in Châteauroux, France, Dr Rouillon was driven from an early age by a desire to improve the quality of life of those around her. Early in life she considered a career in social work, but following the advice of her mother, she chose to become a medical doctor.

Dr Rouillon studied at l’Université de Paris and earned her MD in 1953, then joined the International Union Against Tuberculosis (as it was then known) in 1956 when the Secretariat was only a small office in Paris. At the time, many people in Europe were dying of TB and the disease was widely feared. But it was also a period of remarkable progress, with tests in Scotland showing for the first time that TB could be cured through therapy with a combination of medicines.

Dr Rouillon joined the fight against TB with enthusiasm and passion and was a motivating force to all those who had the privilege of working with her.

“She is someone who left no one indifferent. She is a person with a powerful intellect and who had an extraordinary charisma and devotion to the cause,” recalled Dr Arnaud Trébucq in the documentary short film, Annik Rouillon: une Vie Contre la Tuberculose (Annik Rouillon: A Life Against Tuberculosis).

In addition to her role as Executive Director, Dr Rouillon served as editor-in-chief of the IUAT Bulletin, which in 1991 merged with the UK publication Tubercle and later became the current International Journal of Tuberculosis and Lung Disease. She also oversaw the creation of The Union’s organisation by region, which enables members to collaborate to address their common challenges; and she introduced Spanish as the third official language of The Union, opening the doors to the then hard-to-reach Latin America.

But Dr Rouillon’s greatest legacy to tuberculosis is, without a doubt, the development of the directly observed treatment, short course or DOTS strategy, which she and Dr Karel Styblo worked hand-in-hand to establish. Her tireless advocacy for the sound basic TB care outlined in the strategy led to its adoption by the World Health Organization as the standard public health approach to TB, and it still drives The Union’s approach today. The principles of DOTS continue to influence global anti-tuberculosis efforts and contributed to saving the lives of 37 million people worldwide between 2000 and 2013, according to the World Health Organization.

"Annik spoke proudly of what she had helped The Union accomplish, but she was not nostalgic for the past," says Dr Lee Reichman, Senior Advisor and past Executive Director of the Rutgers Global Tuberculosis Institute. A member of the search committee that offered Dr Rouillon her leadership position at The Union, he remembers, "She loved living in the present and was a master at planning for the future. She wrote with exquisite details about the history of The Union, not because she thought the past was superior to the present, but rather because she knew how much wiser we can be planning for tomorrow if we understand what happened before."

Among numerous distinctions, Dr Rouillon was awarded prizes from l’Académie Nationale de Médecine and l’Académie des Sciences, and she is the only French person to be named a “Hero of Public Health” by Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health. She was also an active member of various medical societies.

She loved the ocean and playing the piano, but most of her free time was dedicated to professional pursuits, and she often spent her evenings and weekends at work. She was so charitable with her time that Dr Nils Billo, Union Board Member and former Executive Director, says, “She lived 23 hours and 59 minutes a day for The Union and one minute for her personal life. She was really very dedicated to The Union.”

Dr Rouillon’s enormous contribution to the field of tuberculosis helped set The Union’s high standard for quality and establish the organisation’s reputation worldwide. Her memory will continue to be an inspiration to all who work in TB and lung health, as we redouble our efforts on behalf of the causes about which she cared so deeply.

“Dr Rouillon was a monumental figure whose legacy permeates The Union,” remembers José Luis Castro, Executive Director of The Union. “Her unwavering commitment to the organisation and to public health shows that, no matter how insurmountable a challenge may seem, dedication, focus and patience will always create lasting impact.”