It is with profound sadness that we learned of the passing of Marleen Boelaert. Throughout her life, she was a champion of the fight against neglected tropical diseases, always showing great professionalism as well as unmatched and unfailing commitment to helping the most neglected, even though for the past few years she was fighting her own battle against disease.
Passionate about her research and transmission to future generations, she trained countless young researchers, especially in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, at the Institute of Tropical Medicine in Antwerp (IMT), which offered public health masters and PhDs to researchers or scientists from countries affected by tropical diseases.
Marleen co-founded the HAT Platform in 2005, and since then she remained highly committed to the control of sleeping sickness, encouraging many members of the platform to further their training. The HAT Platform Coordinator, Florent Mbo, based in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, recalls: “It is thanks to her that we were able to train and afterwards manage in the best possible way the HAT control programmes. She always supported HAT research, created numerous partnerships between IMT and the national programmes. She was passionate about her work, but also attentive to her students. She guided us and encouraged us to surpass ourselves and find our own solutions.”
Our paths first crossed in the early ‘80s when she was a member of the medical department and later the President of Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders) Belgium. In those days already, through her work with MSF, she was involved in activities promoting awareness on neglected diseases and the creation of an environment favourable and necessary for the creation of DNDi. Since then, Marleen remained close to DNDi, as a member of the Scientific Advisory Committee representing MSF, as an active participant in our projects on Chagas disease in Latin America, or as an advisor for our sleeping sickness and leishmaniasis projects.
“It was a blessing for me that I got the opportunity to work with Marleen. I learnt so much from her, she was first a mentor to me and then became a faithful friend,” says Dr Suman Rijal, Director of DNDi South Asia in New Delhi. Their collaboration started over 20 years ago at the B.P. Koirala Institute of Health Sciences (BPKIHS) in Nepal where they built over time, with partners, a reference research centre that played a crucial role in the leishmaniasis elimination strategies in Nepal. Marleen was very active in the field, and had a very clear vision on how to create effective multicultural partnerships.
We will all remember Marleen’s sharp and vivid intelligence, her enthusiasm, her kindness, her courage, her humility. She was a great listener, always ready to help solve difficulties, and she had the knack to make people agree even if there were some differences, always with a view to further the cause.
All members of DNDi who were lucky enough to meet her shall miss her greatly.
Our thoughts go to her family and friends.
Photo credit: Albert Picado