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Dr. Jill Seaman

Born:  
Place: Moscow, Idaho

Jill Seaman
Courtesy: National Institute of Health

Named a “Hero of Medicine” by Time Magazine in 1997.

Jill Seaman was born in Moscow, Idaho, about two miles west of the Idaho/Washington state border and 85 miles southeast of Spokane, Washington.

Moscow is the county seat of Latah County and home to the University of Idaho. First known as "Paradise Valley", the name was changed to Moscow when Samuel Neff filed for a postal permit under that name in 1877. Moscow is pronounced "Moos-co".

After growing up in Idaho, Jill Seaman traveled to the northern New England State of Vermont to pursue her education at Middlebury College, a liberal arts college located in the Champlain Valley between Vermont’s Green Mountains to the east and New York’s Adirondacks to the west. She graduated from Middlebury College with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1974, then headed back west.

Jill Seaman enrolled in the University of Washington’s School of Medicine and earned a Medicinæ Doctor or Doctor of Medicine (M.D. or D.M.) degree in 1979.

After graduation, Dr. Jill Seaman took up residence in Alaska, where she worked in Bethel for the regional Indian Health Service. She served as a general medical officer, working at a 50-bed “bush” hospital administering to the Yup’ik Native American Indians.

Map of Sudan
Map showing Dr. Seaman's location

In 1984, Dr. Seaman traveled around the globe to Sudan, Africa. There she served as a physician for the International Refugee Committee working in a makeshift hospital and a therapeutic feeding center catering to Ethiopian refugees into 1985. This was her first experience in a tropical environment and would lead her to enroll in the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in 1988 to further her knowledge. There she received a diploma in 1989.

It was while Dr. Seaman was in London that she became involved with an organization founded by French Doctors in 1971, Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders). Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) was scouting for doctors at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine to help with an epidemic of kala-azar (scientifically known as visceral leishmaniasis) in Sudan. Dr. Seaman signed on.

There had been much debate within Médecins Sans Frontières about the feasibility of an effort to contain the major epidemic with no hospitals in the area. And even Dr. Seaman was concerned when she arrived in Sudan. But she was not deterred.

Dr. Seaman had to overcome enormous difficulties including the remote location, famine, an ongoing civil war including bombings of civilian targets, and limited and erratic relief supply lines, but by 1995, it looked like the epidemic in southern Sudan was beginning to wane.

From Time Magazine:

"It was only the single-minded and often heroic intervention of the Dutch branch of Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) that prevented Sudan's epidemic of kala-azar from turning into a modern-day version of the black death, which ravaged Europe in the Middle Ages. MSF, founded by French doctors in the early 1970s, not only was largely responsible for bringing the epidemic under control but in the process also developed new procedures for treating the disease under extremely harsh conditions.

"The driving force behind this effort was an unassuming but iron-willed American woman from Moscow, Idaho, Dr. Jill Seaman, whose previous experience had been providing public-health services to Yup'ik Eskimos in the Alaskan wilderness. In an eight-year struggle against the disease, Seaman developed a wealth of clinical expertise in treating thousands of kala-azar patients, perhaps more than any other single doctor in history."

In 2000, Dr. Seaman and her co-worker and friend, Sjoukje de Wit launched a successful program against tuberculosis in Lanken, a village east of the Nile River in South Sudan. This project, was privately funded through friends, and friends of friends, and showed such success that Médecins Sans Frontières has now taken over the project.

In an effort to repeat that project, Dr. Seaman and Sjoukje de Wit have begun a continuation of that project called “the Sudan TB project.”

"We all make choices," says Dr. Seaman. "Sometimes you can decide to do one thing, and to do that one thing really well."

Dr. Jill Seaman contiunues to be an advocate for increased aid and research for kala-azar and other parasitic diseases.

Additional resources:

Time Magazine: Heroes of Medicine: "Rescue in Sudan" describes Dr. Jill Seaman's heroic effort to curtail the kala-azar epidemic in the southern Sudan between 1989 and 1997.

Médecins Sans Frontières: Website of Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctores Without Borders).

the Sudan TB project: The Sudan TB Project website of Jill Seaman, MD, and Sjoukje de Wit, RN.

Source: Time Magazine, "Heroes of Medicine: Rescue in Sudan", 1997
Source: Wikipedia.org, "Jill Seaman", March 19, 2007
Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, "Seaman to Present Gorgas Lecture", June 2, 1998
Source: The Sudan TB Project, "Jill Seaman", http://www.boschnet.net/sudan/, March 19, 2007


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