Professor Luis Cuevas 1956-2023

Press release 2 Jan 2023
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Professor Luis Cuevas

It is with great sadness that we announce the death of Professor Luis Cuevas, who passed away at home on Monday 2nd January 2023.

Known for his work in epidemiology and the diagnosis of infectious diseases in the tropics, particularly tuberculosis, Luis trained in medicine in Guatemala specialising in paediatrics, epidemiology and Tropical Medicine, before joining LSTM in 1985.

Conducting his work mainly in low- and middle-income settings he focussed on health problems that caused the highest burden of disease, he enjoyed identifying common barriers for the diagnosis and management of diseases of poverty and worked to improve access to diagnosis and treatment within those populations. He was involved in the development of diagnostics approaches to reach a same-day diagnosis of TB, which were adopted by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2011.

Understanding that poor populations have limited access to be diagnosed and treated at a local level, with colleagues, he developed community-based approaches to identify people with TB at a village level, doubling the number of cases detected and improving treatment completion in Ethiopia and Nigeria, saving countless lives.

His work in paediatrics was instrumental in the promotion of research on child TB and contributed to the WHO/TDR and NIH (USA) consensus research definitions for child TB. While he was also involved in conducting long term post-licensure evaluations of rotavirus vaccines and, with colleagues, monitoring the impact of vaccines on medical consultations, hospitalisations and mortality in Brazil.

His interest in emerging infections meant that Luis was at the forefront of much of LSTM’s research during the COVID-19 pandemic as well as being at heart of developing new point of care diagnostics for infections such as Chikungunya.

Luis was an outstanding mentor, and, during his time at LSTM, was involved in the training and supervision of more than 150 MSc and 30 PhD candidates, some of whom have gone on to be leaders in the field of global health themselves. He had long term research partners and friendships, notably in Brazil, Nigeria, Ethiopia, and Yemen, with collaborative work spanning more than 30 years.

Luis was Head of the Department of Clinical Sciences from 2015 to 2018 and led the Tropical Clinical Trials Unit (now Global Health Trial Unit) from 2015 to 2019.

The second of six siblings, Luis was born in Guatemala. He spent early years in Germany and Spain while his father pursued his PhD and then returned to study at the Austrian School in Guatemala, while his father, Rafael Cuevas del Cid, became Dean of Law and Vice-Chancellor of one of the oldest Universities in Latin America, the University of San Carlos in Guatemala City from 1970 to 1974.

Luis had a wonderful childhood but grew up during a time of extreme political violence in Guatemala. True to his family values he became involved in student politics, then closely aligned to the labour and farmers movements. He was a medical student union leader within a movement that believed that political participation should be accompanied by the academic excellence of its members.

His father, by then known in Latin America as the ‘Vice-chancellor of dignity’, presented to the UN a report on human right violations in Guatemala, which led to the family being forced into exile and later the forced disappearance and torture of Luis’s younger brother, sister-in-law, and nephew who stayed behind. Luis left Guatemala with three airflight tickets for him, his daughter Sofia and then wife, Lucia.

Luis always said, take the opportunities that present themselves to you, even if they seem small, and make the best of them. He received a scholarship to come to LSTM from the World University Service (WUS) – a scheme that at its origin had facilitated academics to return to professional life after the Second World War. He arrived in Liverpool in 1985, and within months had met his lifelong mentors Professor Ralph Hendricks and C Antony Hart. Although he had planned to travel to Papua New Guinea on a research appointment, he was persuaded to stay, and Liverpool became his second permanent home.

Luis signature often said: ‘From the Popol Buj (the book of the Mayans): “remember life can be more beautiful than your dreams.” And, equally telling: “caminante no hay camino, se hace camino al andar” - traveler, there is no path, you build the path by walking .

LSTM’s Dean of Clinical Sciences and International Public Health, Professor Bertie Squire, said: “We have lost an extraordinary man from the LSTM family; an extremely hard-working, dedicated and valued colleague, teacher, and all-round academic.  We will feel his absence in many different ways.  Both personally and in the wider TB research community, we have lost a brother-in-arms in the quest for better tuberculosis diagnostic tools and pathways.  He will want us to redouble our efforts, and we will do our best, in his honour”

Luis is survived by his partner Rachel and children Sofia, Natalia, Francesca and Miguel.

Luis was a great advocate of learning, education and research. Luis' family would like to raise funds in his name for upcoming scientists to continue research and learning through LSTM. If you would like to contibute, pleae visit the Just Giving page.