Eulalee Thompson, Staff Reporter
Included in the Pan American Health Organisation's (PAHO) distinguished list of 11 public health heroes (to mark its centennial year), is Professor Sir Kenneth Standard, a cornerstone in public health development in Jamaica and the Caribbean.
In the first batch of 33 students - all candidates for medicine - entering the University College of the West Indies in October 1948, was the headmaster of Lynch's Secondary School on Spry Street, Bridgetown, Bar-bados. Kenneth Standard, later Professor Sir Kenneth Standard, was about 27 years old when he decided to make this career change and was one of the oldest in the group that included such well-known medical doctors as cardiologist Don Christian, Keith McKenzie, and Sir Kenneth's life-long friend, Owen Minott.
Say his name and many of his former students and colleagues quickly recall that one of his endearing idiosyncrasies is that he enjoys quoting poetry at the drop of a hat. For him, there is a poem for every occasion.
Dr. Denise Eldemire-Shearer, one of his former students, recalls for instance that one of his favourite pieces was from Longfellow - "The heights by great men reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight, but they while their companions slept, were toiling upward in the night".
"He would recite this verse," she recalled, "as his way of telling us that success was not achieved overnight and to inspire us to work harder."
These informal and impromptu 'poetry sessions' could take place anywhere, maybe in the lobby of the Department of Social and Preventive Medicine and the audience could be just about anyone who enjoyed listening to the professor recite his favourite gems and poems.
"You see, he was not a professor locked away in his office...just catch him at the end of the day when he was relaxed and the poetry would flow," Dr. Eldemire-Shearer said.
It is in his choice of poems that Sir Kenneth's philosophy of life can be discerned. For example, his daughter, Dr. Aileen Standard-Goldson, says that one of his very favourite poems was Albert Schweitzer's, "Reverence for Life": - 'Reverence for life does not allow the scholar to live for his science alone, even if he is very useful to the community in so doing... It demands from all that they should sacrifice a portion of their own lives for others.'
This personality and philosophies of life he carried over into the speciality of public health where he made his mark on Jamaica's and the Caribbean's health landscape.
He was appointed lecturer in the five-year-old Unit of Social and Preventive Medicine from 1961, headed the department from 1966 until 1989 and gained professorship in 1968. It was a second five-year grant approved by the Rockefeller Foundation in 1961 for the expansion of the Unit's activities that saw the appointment of Dr. Standard as lecturer. He was appointed with the understanding that he would work part-time in the newly-established Epidemiological Research Unit (ERU) of the Medical Research Council (MRC) of the United Kingdom.
This was the second MRC Unit on the Mona Campus. Dr. Standard had worked in the first MRC Unit subsequently named, Tropical Metabolism Research Unit (TMRU) between 1957 to 1958 under the directorship of Dr. John Waterlow and Professor Eric Cricksonhank, and supported by the Ministry of Health. They studied the nutritional status of young children in five low-income communities in Jamaica.
He was deliberate in mentoring students hand-picked by him; and sent them little tokens to acknowledge their accomplishments. Dr. Eldemire-Shearer still has his little notes of encouragement and the books which he sent to her.
Dr. Winston Davidson, another former student, said Sir Kenneth was his mentor.
"I was one of the youngest...he invited me after internship to work with him in the Department of Social and Preventive Medicine. I was put in charge of the community health programme and did a lot of research in community participation (in health) using the Hermit-age/August Town model," he said.
The primary health care model, emphasising community participation, that has served the country well, Dr. Davidson said, came out of that department and flowed from the work of Sir Kenneth where he used the Hermitage/August Town as his community 'laboratory'. Sir Kenneth believed in the use of allied health workers and facilitated the training of the first set of community health aides, pharmacy technicians and other allied health workers.
"He believed that no one category of health worker could deliver health care and that we must develop a policy for the health team approach where activities that can be done by someone 'lesser' trained can be divested to them, freeing up the more highly-trained people to do other things," Dr. Davidson said.
It was for this pioneering role in public health and in maternal and child health for which the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) recently recognised Sir Kenneth as one of 11 public health heroes in the Americas -- the only awardee from the English-speaking Caribbean. The citation to him noted that "he had greatly influenced public health by exploring alternatives in the delivery of health care within the constraints of limited resources by using community health aides as a member of the health team".
Sir Kenneth said that this award really belonged to the hundreds of health professionals who contributed to the many gains in health in our region.
"I think back to those pioneering in the 1970s when many of my colleagues at the University of the West Indies, friends in the ministries of health, and most importantly, the many community health workers, placed our countries at the forefront of promoting the primary care strategy even before the declaration of Alma Ata put this into the global framework," he said, in response to the award.
But then awards are nothing strange to Sir Kenneth. He has received several, including the Commander of the Order of Distinction (C.D.) in 1976 for service in the field of medicine; the Pelican Award from the UWI Guild of Graduates in 1967; the 'Super Lion' Award in 1972 from Chancellor Hall for professional advancement, academic achievement and community involvement; the Knight Bachelor (Kt.) Birthday Honours, H.M. Queen Elizabeth II, through the Government of Barbados in 1982 and Special Award for community medicine in the Caribbean from the Medical Association of Jamaica in 1983. He is the founding president, in 1988, of the Caribbean Public Health Association (CARIPHA) and was recognised in 1992 for this special role.
Now UWI's Emeritus Professor, Sir Kenneth lives in retirement with his wife of 46 years, Evelyn.