Hispanic Heritage Month: Eduardo Licéaga, Past President of the American Public Health Association and Introducer of the Rabies Vaccine to Mexico

he American Public Health Association (APHA) was founded in 1872, and, in 1895, its 23rd President was Eduardo Licéaga, a Mexican physician. Dr. Licéaga was born in Mexico City in 1839 and lived to see the advent of the rabies vaccine and the many antiserums against other infectious diseases. He was the Director of the National School of Medicine in Mexico City from 1904 to 1913. The General Hospital of the City of Mexico is named in his honor today, and it is still the central hub of learning for Mexico’s medical students.

In APHA’s A Half Century of Public Health: Jubilee Historical Volume of the American Public Health Associations, this is how he is remembered:1

“He represented Mexico at many international congresses, among which may be mentioned the Public Health Congress at Vienna, Austria ; the Medical Congress at Moscow ; the Tuberculosis Congress, and the Congress on Hygiene and Demography, both at Washington; the first and third Pan -American Congresses, at Washington and Havana, respectively , and international conventions at Washington, Mexico and Costa Rica. From 1893 to 1913 he represented his country at the meetings of the American Public Health Association.

Many honors were bestowed upon him — Knight of the Order of Guadalupe in 1866 ; diploma as honorary member of the Mexican Geographical and Statistical Society; honorary member of the Physicians and Pharmacists of Merida; foreign member of the Academy of Medicine of Venezuela; honorary member of the Surgical and Medical Society of San Sebastian , Spain ; degree of vice – president of the Mexican Society “ Antonio Alzate .”

He was for many years president of the Board of Health of Mexico, during which time many active campaigns against disease were carried out and new measures inaugurated. He took an active part in writing the Sanitary Code of the City of Mexico, and was a member of the commission in charge of building the General Hospital of that city. During his administration antirabic vaccination was established, yellow fever along the Gulf Coast, and bubonic plague at Mazatlan were brought under control.”

Indeed, in 1888, after hearing of Louis Pasteur’s success, Dr. Licéaga introduced the vaccine to Mexico with the support of Porfirio Díaz, Mexico’s President. Having the vaccine, giving it to the people, and bringing the disease under control in the country were all goals of President Díaz to show the world that Mexico was a “modern” nation. (Dr. Licéaga was a close friend and personal physician of Díaz.) There was even a plan to create a branch of the Pasteur Institute in Mexico.2

  1. Ravenel, Mazÿck P. (ed.). 1921. A Half Century of Public Health: Jubilee Historical Volume of the American Public Health Association. New York: American Public Health Association. pp. 43–44.
  2. Rodríguez de Romo, A. 1996. La ciencia pasteuriana a través de la vacuna antirrábica: el caso mexicano. Dynamis: Acta Hispanica ad Medicinae Scientiarumque Historiam Illustrandam, Vol. 16, 291-316.

Author: René F. Najera, DrPH

I am the editor of the History of Vaccines site, an online project by the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. All opinions expressed on these blog posts are not necessarily those of the College or any of my employers. Check out my professional profile on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/renenajera Feel free to follow me on Twitter: @EpiRen