Rolf Neth and Russia
Prof. Margarita B. Belogurova,
Department of Pediatric Oncology, City Hospital No. 31, St. Petersburg, Russia
Prof. Ludmila S. Zubarovskaya,
RM Gorbacheva Research Institute of Pediatric Oncology, Hematology and Transplantation, Pavlov University, St. Petersburg, Russia
Accepted 26 June 2020
Rolf Neth was also eager to keep scientific borders open and established early connections with scientists from Eastern Europe, particularly the Soviet Union, during the cold war. After the Chernobyl accident (April 1986) a number of doctors and scientists (e.g., R. P. Gale and P. Terasaki) arrived to Moscow within several days, in order to assist Russian doctors by attempting bone marrow transplantation in severely irradiated patients. To study long-term effects of Chernobyl accident, the affected areas of Ukraine and Belarus required well-arranged medical surveillance which was established by international collaboration of European scientists. Professor Rolf Neth has undertaken great efforts to develop appropriate medical infrastructure in radioactively contaminated areas and to organize appropriate laboratory facilities, mostly, for pediatric healthcare (Fig. 1).
Figure 1. Prof. Rolf Neth, Prof. A. I.Vorobyov and leading Russian hematologists visiting Chernobyl accident area (1989)
In addition to coordinating essential medical measures after the Chernobyl accident, Rolf Neth has organized, together with Elena I. Frolova (Fig. 2, left), the first Volga-Wilsede Meeting in 1990, at the edge of USSR fall. It is regrettable that Professor Boris Afanasyev (Saint Petersburg) who arranged the successive Wilsede-Neva meeting (Fig. 2, 3) died on March 16, 2020, one day before Rolf Neth.
Figure 2. Discussing an idea of joint Wilsede Meeting on the Volga June 23 1988 in Buchholz. Elena Frolova, Joseph Chertkov, Elena Elsner, Hanne-Lore Neth, Rolf Neth, Alexander Friedenstein, Boris Afanasyev
Figure 3. Prof. Rolf Neth (right) and Prof. Boris Afanasyev (Left), 1991. Kindly provided by O. F. Afanasyeva
The joint German-Russian Wolga-Wilsede Meeting (1990) was the first experience of such Symposium in Russia. It was arranged as a ship travel, and we had our first experience in this field, arranging the program, preparing posters and oral reports. For the first time we attended research communications in the cabin company or ship restaurant, alternated by short anchorages at the Volga strands, accompanied by joyful parties with our young colleagues, with friendly attitude of our older Masters. From Russian side, it was arranged by Elena Frolova, Gregory Dolganov and a number of Moscow hematologists.
Another Wilsede Meeting was scheduled in Saint Petersburg as the Neva-Wilsede Symposium (1992). Its guests arrived to Saint Petersburg, then boarded the tourist ship, then went across Ladoga and Onega lakes, observing the Russian Valaam and Kizhi monuments, and picturesque landscapes underway. The scientific program was as interesting as social events. This meeting included a special symposium on radiation biology, moderated by Prof. Gerard Wagemaker which concerned medical consequences of Chernobyl accident.
During the Wilsede Meeting 1990, Prof. Boris V. Afanasyev has met several leading professors from Hamburg University: R. Neth, A. Zander, K. Winkler, G. Janka. Subsequently, with support of Hamburg Major Henning Voscherau they have adopted a program of training medical staff in bone marrow transplantation (Prof. A. Zander) and pediatric leukemia treatment (Prof. K. Winkler, G. Janka), as well as modern diagnostic techniques (Prof. R. Neth) in the frame of collaboration between Hamburg and Leningrad, the two partner cities. Since 1990, about 100 doctors and medical nurses were trained in Hamburg University in chemotherapy of blood cancer and solid malignancies in children and adults, bone marrow transplantation, blood transfusion, molecular biology, tissue typing.
Prof. Margarita B. Belogurova remembers: during our first training of in Hamburg-Eppendorf University Clinics (1991), Professor Axel R. Zander introduced me to Prof. Rolf Neth who arranged training programs for Russian doctors. Previously, these contacts were only occasional, since Neth was not a clinician, but this time he invited us to his home together with other Russian-speaking doctors, I guess, from Ukraine. It was a cosy house, a dinner prepared by his wonderful wife, and long conversations or talks about different things: our desire for better diagnostics and treatment of leukemia (as in Germany), about our needs and requirements, and potential indispensable aid for Russian medicine. Russian-speaking guests heard some words and phrases in Russian from Rolf Neth, and listened to his personal story of his military service during the World War II, severe frostbites and imprisonment in Russia. Since that time, he had severe injuries of feet thus requiring orthopedic foorwear. He described these dramatic episodes as usual life events! He was devoid of any snobbism, showing warmth and cordiality to Russians.
After organization of BMT Center in the Saint Petersburg City Hospital No.31, its chief, the late Professor Boris Afanasyev has involved all the staff into clinical and fundamental research. Being invited to the Wilsede scientific meetings, we, as ordinary audience, were amazed by unusual looks to the old German village, however, well packed with modern conference halls and equipment. International audience and foreign environment were also surprising for us. Due to great support of Prof. Axel Zander, Rolf Neth, Gritta Janka, Boris Fehse, many Russian doctors became an excellent opportunity of research-oriented clinical training in pediatric oncology, oncohematology and relevant laboratory studies in the clinical and laboratories of Hamburg University.
When we remember Professor Rolf Neth, the simple formula of success is kept in mind: the long way begins with first step. Likewise, the story of noble German help for Russia followed similar way: From humanitarian aid towards the collaboration of equal partners.
Accepted 26 June 2020