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Aileen Joy Plant

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Professor Aileen Plant (1948–2007) was a renowned medical epidemiologist and an outstanding global public health leader

In mid-March 2003, hurrying through Perth Airport on her way to a World Health Organization assignment, Professor Aileen Plant paused to write out her will. She asked the airline staff to witness it before boarding a plane for Hanoi. Her task was to lead a team trying to bring Vietnam out of its sudden nightmare of the deadly disease of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), an illness that no one knew the cause of, nor how it spread. The person she was replacing, Dr Carlo Urbani — who had identified the new syndrome — lay sickened by it in a hospital in Bangkok.

Aileen knew that speed was essential. The effectiveness of the tasks of early detection and prevention of transmission would require a cohesive and willing team, which in turn would require the trust of the Vietnamese Ministry and the Vietnamese health care workers. This, she achieved.

On 29 March, Dr Carlo Urbani died. Dr Katrin Leitmeyer, virologist, recalls how Aileen rallied everyone, “gluing extreme characters…