Neglected tropical diseases

In memoriam
Dr Rikk Davis

17 January 2013 | Geneva

Dr Rikk Davis, a schistosomiasis treatment pioneer sadly passed away aged 84

Dr Andrew (Rikk) Davis, died on January 10 2013 aged 84.

Andrew (Rikk) Davis, who died on January 10 2013 aged 84, would have been successful in which ever branch of medicine he had decided to follow, but he chose tropical diseases. His work involved the clinical pharmacology of schistosomicidal drugs and he was made Director of the WHO/MRC/Tanganyika Government Bilharziasis Chemotherapy Centre at Tanga on the East African Coast in 1962.

In Tanga, he investigated various preparations of antimony against schistosomiasis and the work gained Davis his M.D. with distinction. Later the first of a new series of orally administered drugs became available, and Davis confirmed the organophosphorous compound, metrifonate as a first class drug.

Between 1971 and 1974 Davis was Director of the M.R.C Epidemiological Research Unit in Jamaica before he joined WHO in Geneva as Senior Medical Officer, Schistosomiasis, in the Division of Malaria and Parasitic Diseases where he became Director the Parasitic Disease Programme until he retired in 1989.

In this post, Davis played a pivotal role in the development of praziquantel, a drug that was to revolutionise the treatment and control of schistosomiasis and other trematode infections of man and animals. He designed the multicentre drug trials in the Far East, South America and Africa actively participating in the first studies on tolerance and therapy in Zambia. Without these trials we might not have a safe and effective drug against schistosomiasis. Indeed, it is a fitting legacy to Rikk that Merck KgA now donate through WHO enough praziquantel to treat 100 million children per year.

Davis was famous for his encyclopaedic memory and knowledge of parasitology and chemotherapy. He was an eloquent speaker in Kiswahili and French, as well as English, and is fondly remembered for his monocle (for effect) and his distinctive MCC tie which he wore with pride. He published prolifically and even in his retirement he continued consultancy work with the pharmaceutical industry in the development of new drugs and with the WHO Panel of Experts on Parasitic Diseases.

In 1980 Davis was made a life Member of the Swiss Tropical Medicine Society and in 1989 was awarded the Silver Medal of the Society of Tropical Medicine of France. In 2003 he was awarded the Sir Rickard Christophers Medal by the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.

In his younger days, Davis was a keen sportsman and played squash regularly until shortly before he retired – easily beating many players half his age – and size! Gardening became an absorbing interest at his retirement home in Somerset. He will be remembered by his many friends for his expertise in socialising over a few beers or bottles of ‘redders’.

He married Kate Kelly in 1959, they had a daughter and a son who survive him.