A pioneer in tackling leprosy


Sir, – The article “Irish team helped find leprosy cure” (From the Archives, Health + Family, October 22nd) omitted mention of Belfast-born Dr Joe Barnes, whom generations of awe-stuck medical students in Dublin’s Mater hospital, where he practised as a quiet and unassuming dermatologist (up to 1983), knew affectionately as “the leprosy doctor”.

In 1951, Dr Barnes and his wife Dr Betty Allday published the results of their clinical trials on the drug B283 in the Lancet. It was this ground-breaking research, in association with that of TCD’s Dr Vincent Barry on tuberculosis, that led directly to the development of the anti-leprosy drug clofazamine.

In the early 1940s, Dr Barnes had worked with the Medical Missionaries of Mary in Ogoja province, Nigeria, developing a network of leprosy villages and the delivery of care to over 30,000 sufferers of leprosy.

In recognition of his work on leprosy, Dr Barnes was awarded the Gold Cross “Pro Ecclesia et Pontifica” and made a Knight of Saint Gregory by the Holy See.

He also received many other distinguished awards for a lifetime of humanitarian work in Ireland and abroad.

Dr Barnes died in 2017 at the age of 102 years. – Yours, etc,


Consultant Obstetrician

and Gynaecologist,

Coombe Women and Infants

University Hospital,

Dublin 8.