Carlo Urbani

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Carlo Urbani
Carlo urbani.gif
Born(1956-10-19)October 19, 1956
DiedMarch 29, 2003(2003-03-29) (aged 46)
EducationUniversity of Ancona
Known forIdentifying SARS
Medical career
InstitutionsMédecins Sans Frontières
World Health Organization
ResearchInfectious diseases, parasitic diseases

Carlo Urbani (Italian pronunciation: [ˈkarlo urˈbaːni]; Castelplanio, Italy October 19, 1956 – Bangkok, Thailand March 29, 2003) was an Italian doctor and microbiologist and the first to identify severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) as a new and dangerously contagious viral disease.[1][2] Although he became infected and died, his early warning to the World Health Organization (WHO) triggered a swift and global response credited with saving numerous lives.

Medical career[edit]

Urbani graduated with a medical degree in 1981 from the University of Ancona and specialized in infectious and tropical diseases from the University of Messina. He subsequently earned a postgraduate degree in tropical parasitology.

Urbani started volunteering for the African endemic disease cause since young joining the Italian Catholic NGO Mani Tese. In 1987 Urbani went to Ethiopia for one month. In 1989 he was primary aid in the infectious diseases department of Macerata. After years working in the epidemic medicine fields, in 1993 he became an external consultant of the World Health organization.

In 1996, he joined Médecins Sans Frontières and moved with his family to Phnom Penh, Cambodia for a year. Upon his return to his workplace in Macerata, he became president of the Italian section of MSF. He helped launch a campaign against multinational pharmaceutical companies which keep the cost of indispensable medicines against AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis high. In 1999 he was part of the delegation that received the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to MSF.[3] With the prize money, Urbani decided to create a fund to promote an international campaign for access to essential medicines for the world's poorest populations.

SARS outbreak[edit]

In late February 2003,[3] Urbani was called into The French Hospital of Hanoi to look at patient Johnny Chen, an American businessman who had fallen ill with what doctors thought was a bad case of influenza. Urbani realized that Chen's ailment was probably a new and highly contagious disease. He immediately notified the WHO, triggering the most effective response to a major epidemic in history. He also persuaded the Vietnamese Health Ministry to begin isolating patients and screening travelers, thus slowing the early pace of the epidemic.

On March 11,2003 as he flew from Hanoi to a conference in Bangkok, Thailand where he was to talk on the subject of childhood parasites, Urbani started feeling feverish on the plane. A colleague who met him at the airport called an ambulance.

Personal life and death[edit]

Urbani married Giuliana Chiorrini in 1983 and in 1987 their first child was born, Tommaso.[4]

Urbani contracted SARS while treating infected patients in Hanoi. His Bangkok hospital room was an improvised isolation ward, and communication occurred via an intercom. It is rumoured that Urbani had an argument with his wife who lamented that it is an irresponsible behaviour for a father of three children who ages from 4 to 17 to risk his life treating such a contagious and lethal disease. Urbani replied, 'If I can't work in such situations, what am I here for? Replying e-mails, going to cocktail parties and pushing papers?'[3]

As his lungs weakened he was put on a respirator. During a moment of consciousness, Urbani asked for a priest to give him last rites and asked for his lung tissue be donated for scientific research. Urbani died on 29 March 2003, after 18 days of intensive care.


  • Pierluigi Fiorini (2004). Carlo Urbani : inseguendo un sogno. Evergreen (in Italian). Cinisello Balsamo: Edizioni San Paolo. p. 97. ISBN 9788821551338. OCLC 954723560 – via,[5]
  1. ^ Coates, Sam; Asthana, Anushka. The Times. London Missing or empty |title= (help)(subscription required)
  2. ^ "Dr. Carlo Urbani of the World Health Organization dies of SARS". WHO.
  3. ^ a b c McNeil, Donald G. (2003-04-08). "Disease's Pioneer Is Mourned as a Victim". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-12-06.Disease's Pioneer Is Mourned as a Victim, Donald G. McNeil Jr., The New York Times, April 8, 2003
  4. ^ "8 - Carlo Urbani - Una vita per gli altri". Logifranchi. Nel mondo - CRONACA - 8. 31.08.2004. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  5. ^ On behalf of the Italian association named "Testimoni del tempo". Bibliographic note in Paul Ricoeur (1997). La critica e la convinzione. Intervista con François Azouvi e Marc de Launay. Di fronte e attraverso - Filosofia (in French and Italian). Translated by Daniella Iannotta. Jaca Book. p. 54 (of 262). ISBN 9788816404373. OCLC 841199842 – via

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