11 February 2021, The Tablet

Going viral

The Tablet Interview: Peter Piot

Going viral


There’s another pandemic coming, says one of world’s leading virologists and, next time, we must be better prepared

In the heart of the Flemish countryside is a small museum dedicated to St Damien of Molokai, the Belgian missionary priest who lived and died among the lepers of Hawaii. The museum curators have an online message for their visitors: “Discover how a Father Damien is lurking inside all of us.”

Someone who did discover his inner Father Damien is Peter Piot, one of the world’s leading virologists, who identified Ebola, studied HIV and is now part of the intense worldwide effort to understand the latest deadly global killer: the coronavirus that causes Covid-19, which has already killed more than two million people around the world.

As a young boy, Piot would regularly cycle to the house where Damien grew up and now forms part of the Damien Museum, and was inspired by it.

“I grew up in a small village in Flanders and I had one goal in life – to get out of there,” he says. “The only thing of note in the neighbourhood was the house of Father Damien. I was fascinated by him. I was very strongly Catholic and although I didn’t have the urge to become a missionary, I combined a sense of adventure with wanting to help people.”

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