Luis Cuevas obituary

Other lives: Medical researcher who worked at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine after fleeing political violence in Guatemala

My longtime colleague Luis Cuevas, who has died aged 66 of pancreatic cancer, was an academic who specialised in paediatrics, epidemiology and tropical medicine. For most of his career he did his research and teaching at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM), which he joined in 1985 after fleeing to the UK from political violence in his native Guatemala. He was still working at the LSTM at his death.

Luis’s work focused mainly on the diagnosis and management of diseases of poverty, and one of his most notable achievements was the development of a same-day diagnosis approach for tuberculosis, which was adopted by the World Health Organization in 2011. He was also involved in working out ways to diagnose people with the tropical disease Chikungunya and was at the forefront of LSTM’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The second of six siblings, Luis was born in Guatemala City, to Rafael Cuevas del Cid, a university lecturer and administrator, and his wife, Ruth (nee Molina). Luis spent his early years in Germany and Spain before returning to Guatemala City to study at the Austrian school when his father became dean of law and vice-chancellor of the University of San Carlos in Guatemala City.

Luis later studied at the same university for degrees in medicine and science. During an era of political violence in Guatemala he became involved in student politics, following in the footsteps of his father, who was a well-known human rights activist and supporter of national labour and farmers’ movements.

After university, Luis did a three-year paediatric residency at the University of San Carlos. But throughout that time it was becoming increasingly dangerous for him and his wider family to live in Guatemala. His younger brother, sister-in-law and nephew joined the thousands of people who were “disappeared” and in 1984, at the age of 29, Luis decided to leave the country with his then wife, Lucia, and their daughter, Sofia.

In the UK, at LSTM, Luis and his research collaborators recognised that people from poorer backgrounds in developing nations often have fewer opportunities to be diagnosed or treated close to home. With that in mind he developed, among other things, community-based approaches to diagnosing and treating tuberculosis at village level in Africa, helping to double the number of cases detected and treated in Ethiopia and Nigeria.

On the teaching front he supervised more than 150 MSc and 30 PhD students and was head of LSTM’s department of clinical sciences from 2015 to 2018. More or less simultaneously he also led its tropical clinical trials unit (now the global health trial unit) from 2015 to 2019.

Luis’ marriage to Lucia ended in divorce. He is survived by his second wife, Rachel (nee Anderson), a public health researcher, whom he married in 2003, and their children, Francesca and Miguel, and the two daughters from his first marriage, Sofia and Natalia.

Bertie Squire

The GuardianTramp

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