The Late Professor R. A. John Biddulph, OBE, MBBS, DTH&H, DCH, MRCP (Edin), FRCP (Edin), FRACP (1935-1998) – A Champion For Child Health In PNG.

There have been many people who have made a significant impact to women and child health in PNG. Indeed the work is continuing. When I think of child health in PNG, to me the child health is synonymous with late Prof. John Biddulph (1935-1998). Many of you may have heard about him but I think most young Papua New Guineans do not know his contribution to child health in PNG. It is therefore only appropriate that I write a short history about this great man for young Papua New Guineans to read and know what he did for child health in PNG.

Early Years

Robert Arthur John Biddulph was born in 1935. His father was a Government administrator in Nigeria, Gambia and West Africa where he spent his early years with his two sisters before moving back to England during the Battle of Britain. His mother was a nurse. The family migrated to Sydney, Australia in 1952 where he later studied medicine. In 1956 he went to Port Moresby as a 5th year medical student and spent 6 weeks working in Samarai. This trip had a strong impression on him that he decided to come back to PNG and work as a doctor in 1961 that proved be his life’s work.

Work In Papua New Guinea.

His first posting was in Lae where he was posted to the children’s ward. In 1962 he was invited to be the paediatrician in the newly established medical college in Port Moresby. He quickly realised that dehydration from diarrhoea was a major killer of children and with few medical officers, he realised the only way was to train nurses and medical orderlies. He instituted a standard treatment protocol for dehydrated children at the Port Moresby General Hospital which dramatically reduced the case fatality rate. This approach was soon widely accepted by hospitals throughout the country.

In 1966 the Health Department published a treatment book guideline for medical officers in which Prof. Biddulph wrote a paediatrics section. Treatment protocols were also made into posters and put in every children’s ward in the country and distributed to medical students, medical orderlies and nurses. In 1974 the first edition of a pocket book for treatment of common childhood diseases was produced. This manual has been produced into a text book and its now available in PDF file format and can be freely downloaded.

In 1977 Prof. Biddulph was instrument in the Government passing the ‘The Baby Feeds Supply (Control) Act’. This law made feeding bottles and dummies available on medical prescription only. It was not until 1981 that the World Health Assembly endorsed the World Health Organisation Code in Infant Feeding.

In 1974 He was appointed the Foundation Professor of Paediatrics in the newly established Faculty of Medicine and was the paediatric professor until his retirement in 1990. He was also instrumental in establishing the Post-Basic Paediatric Nurses Training Program. This program has now evolved into the Bachelor of Nursing Program at UPNG. PNG nurses are now able to treat common childhood infections. He also helped establish the Diploma in Child Health and the Master of Medicine in Child Health in 1975. The children’s ward in Port Moresby General Hospital is named after him.

He was president of the PNG Medical Society 1979-80 and secretary from 1974-90. He was consulted upon on many occasions by UNESCO and WHO to most South East Asian and Pacific countries but his heart was always with PNG. This showed when on one occasion he declined an invitation to South America in order to go to PNG because of his commitment to students.

This short history will not be complete without a mention of his wife Mary. Mary was a nurse educator and obtained her masters degree in nursing education from Boston University, USA.  She was the head of nursing in PNG and wrote teaching manuals for teaching health and hygiene to students in PNG.

Later Years

Prof. John Biddulph retired in 1990 and returned to Australia where he was appointed Emeritus Professor of Paediatrics and Child Health at the University of Queensland, a post he held with distinction till his death.

In 1997 he was awarded the Plaque of Honor as “Outstanding Paediatrician for Asia”. The citation on the plaque reads – “For his outstanding contributions to paediatric education, practise and research in Papua New Guinea, for serving as Chief Advisor to the Minister of Health on matters relating to child health, for pioneering in the training of paediatricians and for strengthening primary health care programs throughout the country, which has led to the betterment of child health”.

We will not forget you.

References:

  1. The Royal Australasian College of Physicians website.
  2. PNG Medical Journal 2000 Mar-Jun;43-(1-2):8.  
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About rodney itaki

I am a medical doctor from Papua New Guinea. My posts focuses on current and emerging health issues in PNG.
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16 Responses to The Late Professor R. A. John Biddulph, OBE, MBBS, DTH&H, DCH, MRCP (Edin), FRCP (Edin), FRACP (1935-1998) – A Champion For Child Health In PNG.

  1. Sherry Bloom says:

    I would like to contact Mary if possible. My late husband met John while working on 4 medical/anthroplogical research expeditions from 1966-1972 from Harvard.
    The last time we heard from her was several years ago. I just recently came across a letter from her and wanted to sent her an e-mail, but it came back
    Thanks
    Sherry (Jerry) Bloom

  2. rodney itaki says:

    Sherry, I do not know her email but will try and find out and email you. You could also try contacting Queensland University or Prof. John Vince, Professor of Child Health at University of Papua New Guinea.

  3. Anita (Tina) Walkinshaw says:

    Congratulations! on writing about Prof. Buddulph. He has done so much for PNG and at I am pleased to see that you have acknowledged his contributions. Well done doc!

    I used to work with Mary Biddulph in Pom and lost contact with her just before Prof Biddulph died. I would appreciate any contact details.

    Many thanks in advance
    Anita

  4. rodney itaki says:

    Thank you Anita. Prof. Biddulph gave his life for the development of child health in PNG. And I think the younger generation of Papaua New Guineans should know something about him. Maybe many of the younger generation, including myself would not be here if not for the kind of work he did for child health in PNG.

    I will try my best to get contact details for Mary and send them to you.

  5. rodney itaki says:

    Sherry and Anita, please contact Prof. Joh Vince, Professor of Child Health at UPNG. He may be able to help you.

    email: jvince@datec.com.pg

  6. Anita (Tina) Walkinshaw says:

    I have sent an email to Prof. Vince but it has not been delivered. Could the address be incorrect?

  7. rodney itaki says:

    Anita and Sherry, my sincere appologies. I have realised my mistake. I did a error in the address.

    It should be: jvince@datec.net.pg

    Again my sincere applogies.

    regards

  8. Anita (Tina) Walkinshaw says:

    Prof. Vince responded promptly. I have now sent Mary an email and waiting to hear from her. Many thanks for all your help. Much appreciated.
    Anita

  9. rodney says:

    You are welcome.

    Best wishes.

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  11. rodney itaki says:

    Anita and Sherryl, please email me on itaki7@gmail.com

    Professor Mola is trying to get in touch with you. This is regards to your above requests. I know this has taken a long but please email me or leave your contacts here.

    If anyone passing by and is reading this please email these two to contact me or visit again and leave your email addressess here.

    regards

  12. best says:

    I feel the same.

  13. Prof Sankar Sinha says:

    Dear Dr Itaki,

    Please accept my complement for your contribution on Late Professor John Biddulph. I congratulate you for providing a glimpse of Late Prof Biddulph’s role in developing the paediatric services in PNG to the young PNG doctors who have not had direct contact with him.
    I met him in January 1979 when I was appointed at the UPNG in the Discipline of Surgery and since then I maintained contact with him until he died. He was a great man and so is his successor now Prof John Vince.

    Well done Dr Itaki.

  14. rodney itaki says:

    Thank for your kind comments. Prof. Biddulph left a legacy that will be remembered by all.

    regards.

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