Dr Dorothy Stopford Price was born on September 8th 1890 to Jemmett Stopford and his wife Constance.
Dorothy studied medicine at Trinity College Dublin from 1916 to 1921 where she witnessed the devastating effects of the Spanish flu. The 1918 Spanish flu pandemic was one of the deadliest natural disasters in human history, killing between 50 and 100 million people worldwide and over 20,000 people in Ireland. While training at Meath Hospital in Dublin, Dorothy would tend to the highly infectious patients by day before cycling to the mortuary at night to perform postmortems.
After qualifying as a doctor, Dorothy worked as a dispensary doctor in Kilbrittain in County Cork. During the Irish War of Independence and the Irish Civil War, Dorothy tended to the Republican wounded and returned to Dublin in 1923 to work at St Ultan’s Hospital.
It was during her time at St Ultan’s that Dorothy began to research tuberculosis, particularly cases in children. In 1922, a total of 4,614 deaths in Ireland had been attributed to the disease, 611 of which were of children under the age of 15. There was still a certain stigma surrounding the disease and many sufferers and relatives were reluctant to report cases. This meant the actual figure was likely to have been much higher. Tuberculosis was the third leading cause of death among Irish children in the first half of the twentieth century.
On a visit to Vienna in 1931, Dorothy learned of the effectiveness of the tuberculin skin test. In 1936 she visited Scandinavia and witnessed the new BCG vaccine being manufactured and used. Highly enthused by what she saw, Dorothy returned home and immediately applied for a research license to use the vaccine in Ireland. This was granted and she quickly set about vaccinating children in Dublin.
Dorothy’s crusade to end childhood tuberculosis was not an easy one. She had to contend with severe overcrowding in hospitals, constant struggles to gain adequate funding, a reluctance to listen on the part of the establishment and the effects of the Second World War before she got her way. In 1948 she was appointed the chairman of a National Consultative Council on Tuberculosi and a year later, the first chairperson of the National BCG Committee tasked with offering mass vaccination to the Irish population.
After years of dogged perseverance, Dorothy had succeeded in instigating the mass vaccination of the Irish public. By the late 1950’s tuberculosis had virtually been eradicated in Ireland, partly due to the tireless efforts of Dr Dorothy Stopford Price.