Luiz Hildebrando: a Brazilian

Publicação: 2 de October de 2014

Using the example education that, more than parasitology, public health, genetics, molecular biology or immunology, he taught precious lessons of life an ethics for generations of apprentices

The security chief at the Pasteur Institute in Paris carefully examined the list of active researchers at the institution and told me: – I am so sorry, but there is no Professor Luiz Hildebrando here. I was shocked and said Prof. Luiz Hildebrando Pereira da Silva had invited me to spend some time in his Experimental Parasitology Unit at the Pasteur Institute and for that I had traveled from Brazil. – Oh! You meant Monsieur Perrerra da Silva? He has been with us for years and is a very important person here! I was very welcomed by Luiz Hildebrando, who gave me a desk just like his own in his office at the unit he commanded and, by the end of my stay in Paris, he offered me a delicious dinner made by him at the apartment he shared with his wife and son. Months earlier, during the National Meeting on Malaria Research in Brasilia, I had commented with Luiz Hildebrando about my intention to settle in Brasilia University a unit of candidate peptides for antimalarial vaccines. He said nothing. The invitation to visit his Pasteur Institute Unit was the answer: there I met many of his collaborators who held many patents of potential antimalarial vaccines. I was his subtle and efficient way to show me that preparing peptides is relatively easy, what is hard is to make them work adequately as antimalarial vaccines, something nobody has ever achieved. I have up preparing vaccines and dedicated to understand why they did not work.

This was Luiz Hildebrando, for who, more important than words were the fact and the act. Moreover, the greatest of all acts: the example. Using the example education that, more than parasitology, public health, genetics, molecular biology and immunology, he taught precious life and ethics lessons for generations of apprentices. The moving example of resistance and integrity he gave us while he was imprisoned and further, kicked out of the country by the military government for two times, in 1964 and 1969, for having a different mind of those who had taken command over the country. During his exile in Paris, he built a solid scientific career and was internationally acknowledged through the Paris Pasteur Institute, besides acting as a leader for over 800 exiled Brazilians and active member of the Brazilian Amnesty Council from 1974 to 1979. Through his example he showed that science and social responsibility are complementary and, despite leading a highly sophisticated research unit in Paris, he never lost focus of his true challenge: helping the most suffered population and making the world a better place. In name of this coherence, he conducted field researches in Senegal, Gabon, Madagascar and French Guiana. This social concern, based on his political ideals to which he was faithful for all his life, was determinant to shape his life trajectory from 1996 and on, when he retired from the Pasteur Institute. In another act of courage and social compromise, he renounced living with the most deserving academic honors, in the comfort of his life in Paris with his family, and returned to Brazil to build at the center of the malaria endemic region, the Rondonia Tropical Pathologies Research Institute, in Porto Velho, where he would live.

Despite his straight and honest way of dealing with people having been sometimes, interpreted as a sign of arrogance, Luiz Hildebrando never let himself contaminate by vanity and dealt with the same consideration both authorities and the children from his rural regions. Through his long and fruitful professional life, he accumulated the highest recognition manifestations: the Grand Cross of the National Order of Scientific Merit, a honor from the Health Ministry, he was emeritus professor at both the Rondonia Federal University and the Sao Paulo University, honorary professor at the Pasteur Institute, Guest professor at Harvard University, emeritus researcher at the Science and Technology Ministry, awarded with the UNESCO prize, Peter Muraniy Award, UNESCO-Pasteur Medal, Averroes Award and Conrado Wessel Award. All these honors did not prevent him, in a time I visited him at the Porto Velho Research Institute, of sweeping the lab’s floor since the janitor had called in sick.

Luiz Hildebrando was many in one: the sanitary physician, the professor, the educator, the scientist, the research leader, the idealizer, the public policies inspiring, the new ideas provoker, the science philosopher, the political activist, the writer, the gourmet, the pianist, but, most of all, he was a Brazilian who lived and kept faithful to an ideal. His death on September 24 2014, at the age of 86, resulting of an uncontrollable pneumonia, left us all orphans of this so great and unique man.


Brasilia, September 25, 2014

Eduardo Tosta

Emeritus Professor at the Medical School

Brasilia University