12th June 2014
Denis Wright and
BIOGRAPHICAL DETAILS - PROFESSOR GUILLEBAUD: FEBRUARY 2014
John Guillebaud – pronounced in 2 syllables “Gil-boe”
is Emeritus Professor of Family Planning and Reproductive Health at University College, London (UCL) and ex-Medical Director, Margaret Pyke Centre for Study and Training in Family Planning. Professor Guillebaud's family are Huguenots who came to England more than 300 years ago. He was born at Buye, Burundi, Africa, brought up in Rwanda, educated in Uganda, Kenya and Britain and continues to make regular training and support visits for healthcare professionals in Africa (Central and South).
John’s personal Chair awarded in 1992 at UCL was the world's first with this title to be given to a practising academic gynaecologist. As a Trustee of the Margaret Pyke Trust he also maintains a link with the Centre, of which he is the former Medical Director. Margaret Pyke was the first Chairman of the UK Family Planning Association and a pioneer of the family planning movement, hence the Centre was opened as a memorial to her by the Duke of Edinburgh in 1969. It provides a comprehensive publicly funded one-stop reproductive health service. Hundreds of medical students, doctors and nurses are trained each year at the Centre, and methods of birth control are investigated with the help of the associated Trust.
He is author/co-author of over 300 publications on environmental sustainability, reproductive health and population, contraception for women and for men, and of eight books which are available in 10 languages including Bulgarian, Malay and Japanese. Recently updated editions are available of “Contraception: Your Questions Answered”, “Contraception Today”, the “Oxford Handbook of Reproductive Medicine and Family Planning” and “The Pill – the Facts”. He also consults as requested ad hoc, both internationally (eg WHO) and nationally (eg Department for International Development).
His choice of contraception for both genders as his medical specialty was made in 1959 while he was still a 2nd year med student at Cambridge, prompted by a lecture from the Biologist Dr Colin Bertram. World population then was a ‘mere’ 3000 million, but the speaker predicted (accurately) that it would double by 2000. In 2011 it reached 7000 million and is still rising by over 80 million a year, so that “a city for 1.5 million is required each week”. John soon appreciated - as was much more recently depicted by the amazing “ticking clocks” at http://www.poodwaddle.com/Stats/ how humankind’s per-person environmental footprint is exacerbated by the number of feet - ie the number of humans doing the consuming and polluting, on our uniquely life-supporting but finite planet. He also saw how this often neglected factor can be addressed, wisely and compassionately, through voluntary rights-based family planning made fully accessible to all.
This is win-win technology as Melinda Gates stressed in her TED lecture of
Or as the Director of UNICEF said, just 2 years before the eco-timecapsule:
“Family planning could bring more benefits to more people at less cost than any other single technology’ now available to the human race”. And, as UNICEF went on to say, the benefits are not solely for the planet’s future but also for themselves - especially on a humanitarian basis for women and children. “You cannot die of a pregnancy you don’t have”. Given that around half of the world’s pregnancies are unplanned, wherever there is, tragically, high maternal (and infant) mortality the good news is that this (not dying) can more often be true after the removal of the numerous barriers to family planning, in many poor settings.
As John says, “contraceptives are at least as important for environmental sustainability as bicycles”.
So as well as gynaecology - for women’s contraception - after Dr Bertram’s lecture John trained in general surgery. He has since performed about 5000 vasectomies - recently by the favoured ‘No-scalpel’ technique - and is involved in studies of a new non-hormonal ‘male pill’, one that will potentially reduce male-to-female HIV transmission – though unlikely to be marketed before 2025.
His vision is focussed on a humanitarian basis at time present but, simultaneously, for later in this 21st century. It is to improve for millions of humans the chances of a fulfilling and sustainable future, with hopefully also less violence worldwide in the pursuit of disappearing resources. The same applies for the thousands of similarly-endangered species with which we share this finite planet.
These days John spends an increasing amount of time with his two grandchildren aged 6 and 5 who live next door, and indulges his lifetime enthusiasm for cycling, for its fun and its convenience (and zero emissions). In 2010, 2011 and 2012 he was among the c 750 entrants for the Brompton World Championship at Blenheim Palace. Naturally, since the Brompton is a commuter cycle, lycra is banned and participants must wear a jacket and tie! Moreover with cycles initially in folded-up mode there is a Le Mans-type start. In June this year he plans a special sponsored cycle ride to publicise the 20th anniversary of the Environment Time Capsule Project(1994-2044). Details will follow!