Dr. Wu Lien-teh: Pioneer of the surgical mask and Opponent of psychoactive substances

Wu Lien-teh or Wu Liande (Chinese:伍連德; 10 March 1879 – 21 January 1960), was a Malayan physician famous for his work in public health and especially for his battle against the pneumonic plague in Manchuria (known as the Manchurian plague) during 1910-1911. To cope with the disease, he designed a type of surgical mask with cotton and gauze, with several layers of cloth be added to filter inhalations. For this invention, he is considered as the pioneer of the N95 mask.

Apart from his contribution to the end of the pandemic he campaigned against the opium trade, which had catastrophic effects in health in China and Southeast Asia. In particular, he was concerned about the fact that opium addiction had remarkably widespread among the Chinese labouring class. For this reason, he decided to become a member in a nationwide campaign against the distribution and use of opium. At that time, the colonial income was associated with the profits of opium. Wu was the founder of the Anti-Opium Association in Penang, and in March 1906 a nationwide anti-opium conference in Ipoh with the participation of 3,000 people was organized by him. Nonetheless, after the occurrence of a terrible incident Wu’s life was not the same. In early 1907, after an ounce (about 28 g) of opium tincture was found in his clinic, he was accused of possessing this psychoactive substance and he was fined in court. Wu alleged that the cupboard in which the drug was found came with the clinic he had bought from a British lady doctor. Although, the relation of this event and his anti-opium campaign is not clearly associated, Wu felt ashamed.

Reference: Dr Wu Lien-teh: modernising post-1911 China's public health service, Kam HingLee, et al, Singapore Med J.2014 Feb; 55(2): 99–102.doi:10.11622/smedj.2014025