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Global Connections

Professor's research recalls Nelson Mandela's legacy

December 6, 2013

Dr. Ian Orme and colleagues have worked in South Africa on tuberculosis, a disease Mandela contracted while in prison and that he fought aggressively as president.

Ian Orme, University Distinguished Professor, is part of Colorado State University’s Mycobateria Research Laboratories, a group of about 170 researchers and one of the world’s foremost tuberculosis teams. Orme and two colleagues recently worked on a tuberculosis research project in South Africa, and he came home with new insights into the legacy of former South African President Nelson Mandela, who died at the age of 95 on Dec. 5, 2013. 

Orme writes:

Although nobody talked about it in public for years, it was well-known that Mr. Mandela caught tuberculosis while imprisoned for 27 years on Robben Island for fighting apartheid.

A few years ago it seems he showed symptoms of reactivation TB, which was treated. His recent illness, also described as a chronic respiratory illness, could well have been another bout, although one has to be careful because 95-year-olds can catch multiple types of lung infections.

I worked with CSU colleagues Diane Ordway and Crystal Shanley in Pretoria, South Africa, for the Gates Foundation in March. What struck me was the congenial and mutually respectful relationship between black Africans and whites (Afrikaners).

I know my white colleagues there are mourning equally over the death of this man who united his racially divided nation. This is Mandela's great legacy.

Mandela was also acutely aware of the vast epidemic of combined HIV and tuberculosis in South Africa, and he aggressively sought the help of the West to provide medicines to treat these. This is still a serious issue, but things would have been infinitely worse had he not acted.

Contact: Coleman Cornelius