In memoriam: Professor Harold Townson (1942-2020)

26 Jun 2020

It is with great sadness that the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (RSTMH) has learned about the passing of Professor Harold Townson (1942-2020).

Professor Townson was President of RSTMH from 2001 to 2003 and was Editor-in-Chief of Transactions of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene from 2004 to 2007. He was Emeritus Professor at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine.

Harold Townson was born in 1942 and joined LSTM to start his PhD in 1963. Before completing his PHD he started lecturing and jointly started a course in statistics for MSc students. He then accepted the role of Lecturer in Medical Entomology in 1967. Professor Townson then spent the next forty years developing his expertise in parasitology and medical entomology primarily focusing on molecular systematics of malaria vectors. Following his PhD in Liverpool, he continued with laboratory research on genetic aspects of filariasis vectors. He spent time in other settings through field experience of vector-borne disease projects in Nigeria, Cameroon and Burkina Faso. During the early 1970s he was a Senior Lecturer in Parasitology at the University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, which was followed by some time conducting laboratory research in Liverpool and also field research in West Africa, funded by the Onchocerciasis Control Programme.

Professor Townson and his group provided key operational information to the Onchocerciasis Control Programme in West Africa (working in Benin, Togo, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso and Sierra Leone), supporting it to focus vector-control more effectively. Between 1974 and 2002, onchocerciasis was brought under control in West Africa through the work of the Onchocerciasis Control Programme, relieving 40 million people from infection, preventing blindness in 600 000 people, and ensuring that 18 million children were born free from the threat of the disease and blindness. 

Professor Townson also pursued studies on genetic factors that might influence the ability of mosquitoes to transmit filariasis, leading to an interest in DNA-based tools for studying mosquito vectors.  He was the Selwyn-Lloyd Chair of Medical Entomology at LSTM from 1994 until his retirement in 2005.

Throughout his career he supervised 31 PhD students, published over 100 research articles, numerous books, and textbooks. From 2004 he took up the position of Editor-in-Chief of Transactions of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene and is credited by Professor Bo Drasar, his successor as having &lsquo two inestimable services. First, the negotiation and management the transition from ‘in-house’ to commercial publication and second, the introduction of the electronic submission and handling of papers.’

He was amongst the first to publish papers in our journals that demonstrated the importance of considering gender and equity in programmes for the control of the three major diseases of poverty: TB, HIV, and malaria. His vision for the journal was to focus on the changing face of ‘tropical medicine’ in terms of research, disease control and public health policy, demonstrating how neglect of such factors may significantly hinder progress in developing effective public health

All at RSTMH are saddened to hear the news of Professor Townson’s passing. He made a significant contribution to the Society and on behalf of the team and the Board we send our sincere condolences to his wife and family.

Tamar Ghosh