Stop TB Partnership

TB community mourns the loss of research pioneer Sir John Crofton

4 November | Edinburgh -- Sir John Crofton passed away peacefully at his home yesterday. He was 97.

Widely considered one of the world's pre-eminent physicians, Sir John was responsible for breakthrough research that led to the first effective combined treatment regimen for TB.

Sir John was thrust into the thick of Scotland's post-war TB epidemic when he returned after serving in battlefield hospitals. Placed in charge of 400 TB hospital beds, he was determined to cut the TB rate in Scotland -- one of the few European countries where the disease was still on the rise.

In 1952, when Sir John became chair of tuberculosis at Edinburgh University, he put together a team who demonstrated that, with meticulous bacteriology and use of a combination of three separate drugs (streptomycin, isoniazid and para-aminosalycilic acid), a cure rate for TB approaching 100% was a reasonable objective. Between 1954 and 1957, Crofton’s team halved the TB notification rates in Edinburgh -- a goal previously considered unimaginable.

To further test the validity of the ‘Edinburgh Method’, The International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease launched an international trial of the treatment protocol. The study involving 23 leading centres was a success, and Edinburgh Method became the gold standard for TB treatment.

Sir John’s work, together with that of the Union and other scientists, laid the groundwork for subsequent development of the DOTS strategy for TB, which formed the basis for WHO's current Stop TB Strategy.

"The whole world owes a debt to Sir John for his landmark research, which laid the foundation for effective TB treatment," said Dr Mario Raviglione, Director of the WHO Stop TB Department. "We mourn his passing, but his work will live on."

Sir John was professor of respiratory diseases and tuberculosis at the University of Edinburgh for 25 years. He was vice principal between 1969 and 1971 and retired from the university in 1977, the same year he was knighted for his work. He also served as President of the Royal College of Physicians.

After leaving the university he began a second career as an anti-tobacco crusader, speaking widely on the health impacts of tobacco in the developing world and travelling extensively across Asia.

After co-founding UK Action on Smoking and Health, he became the first chairman of the tobacco and health committee of the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease in 1984 and did extensive work on this health issue for WHO.

In 2002, he co-wrote Tobacco: A Global Threat and advised in a civil action in Scotland against a tobacco company the following year. Well into his nineties he continued to campaign tirelessly for TB and tobacco control.

"This was an extraordinary human being, a beacon to us all. Researchers around the world should turn to his memory as they seek the innovations that are so urgently needed to advance the fight against TB," said Dr Marcos Espinal, Executive Secretary of the Stop TB Partnership.