‘Ebola hunter’ Jean-Jacques Muyembe receives Harvard honorary degree

Jean-Jacques Muyembe
Jean-Jacques Muyembe

May 26, 2022 – Jean-Jacques Muyembe, a Congolese microbiologist who leads public health emergency responses in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), including for COVID-19, is one of Harvard University’s honorary degree recipients for 2022.

Muyembe is head of the DRC’s Institut National de la Recherche Biomédicale in Kinshasa and the inaugural president of the Congolese Academy of Science. He was the first to discover the Ebola virus during his work in the first-ever outbreak in 1976, in central Congo. He took blood samples from a sick patient and sent them to be identified in Belgium, where colleagues had an electron microscope. Scientists there and in the U.S. were able to verify a new virus that caused hemorrhagic fever.

Muyembe also led the design of the first effective treatment against the virus, and pioneered the deployment of experimental Ebola vaccines. In 2009, he co-authored a paper demonstrating that the Ebola outbreaks in the DRC were due to fruit bat exposure.

A 2015 Lancet article described Muyembe as “Africa’s Ebola hunter.”

Muyembe has worked hard to build the DRC’s scientific capacity, establishing multiple research facilities in the country. He has also played key roles with the World Health Organization in fighting infectious diseases, and has received a number of prestigious awards and honors, including being named to Time magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people of 2020.

Read a Harvard Gazette article: Harvard to award seven honorary degrees

Read an NPR article: This Congolese Doctor Discovered Ebola But Never Got Credit For It—Until Now