Nha Trang Pasteur Institute

Wednesday, 03/05/2006, 17:02 [GMT+7]

The Institute was founded in 1895 by Dr. Alexandre Yersin, who was scholar Pasteur’s student and collaborator. We cannot speak of the history of Pasteur Institute without mentioning Dr. Alexandre‘s biography. He was a Swiss-French bacteriologist, born on September 23 at La – Van, a village in Switzerland. He graduated from Medicine University in Paris in 1888. Being a French citizen for 2 years, he was working in Pasteur Institute in Paris, suddenly he had an idea to go to the Far East, coming to the tropical land full of mystery where he was learn from books and spending over 50 years of his life in Vietnam, mainly in Nha Trang.

In 1894, Yersin was sent by request of the French government and the Pasteur Institute to Hong-Kong, to investigate the ongoing Plague epidemic. There, in a small hut next to the institute along with his co-discoverer Shibasaburo Kitasato, he made his greatest discovery, that of the pathogen which causes the disease. He was also able to demonstrate for the first time that the same bacillus was present in the rodent as well as in the human disease, thus underlining the possible mean of transmission. This important discovery was communicated to the French Academy of Sciences in the same year, by his colleague Emil Duclaux, in a classic paper titled La Peste Bubonique de Hong-Kong. Yersin named the organism Pasteurella pestis after his teacher, but since 1970 the bacillus has been known as Yersinia pestis.

In 1895, he returned to the Institute Pasteur in Paris and with Émile Roux, Albert Calmette and Armand Borrel, prepared the first anti-pest serum. In the same year, Yersin established a laboratory at Nha Trang, about 1km far from Con village where he was living. This was the second laboratory in Indochina established after the one in Sai Gon. There, he prepared serums against plague in human beings and cattle and studied cattle diseases, tetanus, cholera, and smallpox. In order to cater for his research work, he carried out building up a cattle ranch in Suoi Dau, breeding horses to compound serum for assorted kinds of vaccines. He was also a pioneer in the culture of rubber trees imported from Brazil (Hevea brasiliensis) into Indochina. For this purpose, he obtained in 1897 a concession from the government to establish an agricultural station at Suoi Dau. He also opened a new station at Hon Ba in 1915, where he tried to acclimatize in this country the quinine tree (Cinchona ledgeriana), which was imported from the Andes in South America by the Spaniards and which produced the first known effective remedy for preventing and treating malaria.

In 1902, with the assistance of Paul Doumer (1857-1932), then government general of Indochina, a medical school was founded at Hanoi. He was appointed to be the first headmaster of this school. Two years later, he returned to Nha Trang for working and living for all his life. Coming back to Nha Trang in 1904, he mobilized the French Government to change the two laboratories in Sai Gon and Nha Trang into Indochinese Pasteur Institute. In recognition of his medical achievements, the French government appointed him honorary director of the Institute Pasteur in Indochina, managing the two establishments in Nha Trang and Sai Gon. In addition to the two branches, he founded two more Institutes one in Ha Noi in 1920 and the other in Da Lat in 1936. Besides, he also had two bacillus laboratories in Hue and in Phnom – Penh under the direction of the Indochinese Pasteur Institute. In Nha Trang, a two – floored building was set up. In 1939, a serum room was officially come into operation. Since then, Nha Trang Pasteur produced vaccines not only to meet the domestic demand but also to supply for other countries such as Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, etc…

His interest in the cultivation of grains and in soil conditions led him to initiate a series of ecological studies. Yersin became deeply concerned over the needs of the sick and the poor and fought hard against the exploitation of the lower classes. His contribution to Vietnam is remarkable. Apart from his medical work, he also introduced into Vietnam the hevea brasiliensis, better known as the rubber tree, and the quinine-bearing cinchona plant used in the treatment of malaria. It was he who first recognised Dalat’s potential as a healthy resort, and established a Pasteur Institute there.

In 1940, Alexandre Yersin in poor health, returned to France for the last time. In 1941, he returned to his beloved home in Nha Trang where he remained and passed away in January 3, 1943 at Suoi Dau southwest of Da Lat, at the age of 80. In his will, he requested to be buried in Nha Trang, close to his beloved people. Every year, on March 1st, out of respect and gratitude to his contribution to this region, many of the inhabitants still come to his grave, bringing joss-stick and fruits as offerings. Dr. Jacotot took over Yersin’s position.

After the August Revolution, 1945, Pasteur Institute had been reopened under the direction of engineer Dang Van Vinh for less than 2 months, French colonialists reoccupied Nha Trang City. Mr. Dang Van Vinh and some cadres in the Institute joined the resistance. In 1946, Dr Jacocot was released from Japanese fascist army and continued working in this Institute. In 1952, Indochinese Pasteur Institute became 4 Institutes: Ha Noi Pasteur Institute, Sai Gon Pasteur Institute, Nha Trang Pasteur Institute and Da Lat Pasteur Institute, called Vietnam Pasteur Institute in general.

In 1954, French government gave Pasteur Institute Ha Noi back to our government, now known as the National Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology.

In 1958, French government officially returned 3 other Institutes to Sai Gon government.

After the day of liberation, on April 2nd 1975, Nha Trang Pasteur Institute continued operating. It is acted as the central regional Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology, training testing technicians for central regional provinces. The serum-producing department founded by Dr. Alexandre Yersin was separated and became Vietnam Vaccine and Serum Institute, main establish in Nha Trang.

For over 50 years since his death, Nha Trang City and the Institute he set up have been improved step by step. The stories about devoting of his whole life to science are still handed down from one generation to another, especially for Nha Trang people.

H.Y