Dedication, goodwill go far deeper than the skin


Hideoki Ogawa vividly remembers the tears and waving flags of the Chinese soldiers and hospital staff who turned out at the port of Tiangjin near Beijing to bid farewell to his father.

It was toward the end of 1946, one year after the end of World War II in August 1945.

During the war, his father, Naohide Ogawa, a professor of dermatology at the Imperial University of Tokyo, was assigned to the task of creating the Department of Dermatology at Beijing University, where Japanese, Chinese and Korean staff worked together.

“At Beijing University, my father organized a medical team to provide care to Japanese, Chinese, Manchurian or Korean patients — friends and foes alike,” Ogawa recalls. “He won admiration and appreciation for his dedication to medicine. That’s why his disciples and former patients rushed to the port to see him leave.”

Some 60 years have passed since that day. Earlier this month, the son, now 66 and an internationally renowned dermatologist like his father, attended a ceremony in Bangkok to welcome young Asian dermatologists to a special training course at the government’s Institute of Dermatology.

Upon completion of the 10-month course, these young doctors will join the ranks of Ogawa’s disciples as graduates of the training program, who now number more than 700, including 57 Chinese.

It is Ogawa, CEO and president of Juntendo University — Japan’s oldest school of Western medicine — who helped launch the course in 1976 as a Japanese-Thai joint project. The semipublic Japan International Cooperation Agency provides 50 percent of the project’s operating funds.

Initially, it was a one-month course in dermatology that later developed into a three-month course and then a 10-month, international diploma course. From the very beginning, Ogawa has involved himself in the project as an organizer and a lecturer.

Since 1984, when the duration of the course increased to 10 months, seven or eight dermatology professors from Japanese medical schools have been dispatched to the Thai institute in rotation for up to two weeks, lecturing and teaching for up to 10 months. Until recently, Ogawa volunteered as one of the teaching staff for two months a year.

The course is designed to provide young physicians from countries in Southeast Asia with an academic year (10 months) of dermatological training so that they can gain knowledge in basic science, clinical dermatology, and advanced technology in diagnostic approaches and management as well as research methodology.

Every year, more than 20 young dermatologists mostly from Thailand and other Southeast Asian countries, such as Bangladesh, Pakistan and the Philippines, have attended the course to put their new knowledge into practice in their home countries, where infectious skin diseases and sexually transmitted disease are rampant.

The program is regarded as one of the world’s best diploma courses of its kind. In recent years, young doctors from countries outside of Southeast Asia, such as China, Australia, South Korea, South Africa and the Middle East, have sought admission to the course on official scholarship or at their own expense. If the 31 new trainees are included, 732 doctors from 29 countries have graduated from the course since its inception.

For his major role in the program, Ogawa received a top award from the Thai government.

His career in Japan is outstanding. He became a professor at Juntendo University in 1981 at the age of 38, a few years after serving as a visiting professor at Duke University in the United States. In 2000, he was appointed president of Juntendo University and CEO in 2004. In May this year, Ogawa was chosen as president of the Japanese Association of Private Medical Schools.

Asked what motivated a doyen of Japan’s medical and academic worlds to sacrifice his time and energy to the Japan-Thai project for the past three decades, he just said, “It may be the DNA I inherited from my father.”

Indeed, Ogawa’s volunteerism dates back to his days as a medical student. He made it a rule to spend his summer vacation at a remote village in Iwate Prefecture, known as a doctorless area, providing medical care to local villagers.

Even after graduating from Juntendo University and working as a hospital doctor, he volunteered to stay for some weeks during the summer recess at remote islands off Okinawa to give free medical care to local people.

“My father helped to nurture some 800 Chinese dermatologists at Beijing University during the turbulent days during the last war. At the Thai institute, I have helped to teach more than 700 young doctors. Soon, I will be able to outstrip my father’s achievement,” he said smiling.

As an educator, Ogawa harbors a strong belief in the direction Japan should take in the future.

“At the end of World War II, Japan renounced its path to becoming a military power. Japan has achieved miraculous success as a merchant state, though we were sometimes mocked as an economic animal.

“Now, Japan must transform itself into an education- and culture-oriented country, and make greater contributions to the rest of the world by helping other countries develop human resources, like the Thai project,” he said.