Doctor, university teacher and writer
"The style of Ricardo Jorge differs from everything we know about parliamentary speech, academic dialectics, civic eloquence and even church rhetoric..."
(Camilo Castelo Branco on his doctor, Ricardo Jorge, in his evenings of S. Miguel de Seide)
Ricardo de Almeida Jorge was born in Porto, on 9 May 1858, to a humble family. His father was a blacksmith in Almada Street.
He was a brilliant student at the Porto Medical-Surgical School between 1874 and 1879, finishing the degree in Medicine at the age of 21 with a dissertation entitled Um Ensaio sobre o Nervosismo [An Essay on Nervousness].
In 1880, he competed for the position of substitute teacher at the Surgery Department of the same school, presenting the work Localizações Motrizes no Cérebro [Motor Locations of the Brain]. He therefore began his professional life at the Porto Medical-Surgery School, an activity which he combined with the clinical practice. Since the beginning of his career, he criticized teaching, research and medicine practiced until then and tried to overcome the country's lagging behind in those areas, becoming a renowned figure in national Science, although he was controversial.
In the texts published in the scientific journal Revista Científica from 1882 on, which he helped found and in which he collaborated on a regular basis, he expressed the positivist and experimentalist principles he defended.
In 1883, he went on a study trip to learn more about neurology. First he travelled to Strasbourg, where he visited the laboratories of Pathological Anatomy of Recklinghausen and Waldeyer, and later to Paris, where he met the neurologist Charcot and attended his classes.
After he returned to Portugal, swarmed with new ideas on his mind, he started a course in the Anatomia dos Centros Nervosos and set up the pioneering microscopy and physiology laboratory in Porto.
Neurology was his first interest, but not the only one. He also dedicated himself to hydrotherapy, an area in which he conducted some experiences on the effects of alkaline fluorides and on thermal waters, the results of which he published in several studies, in particular on Caldas do Gerês. Public Health also merited his attention. This is the area that attracted him the most after the cholera epidemic in 1883.
After the debates on the set up of the cemeteries in Porto, held at the Medical Union Society, Ricardo Jorge promoted four conferences in 1884 (under the themes of hygiene in Portugal, the evolution of graves, burials and cemeteries, and cremation), to contest the health authorities who believed that cemeteries caused air, soil and water pollution, thus endangering public health. The conferences earned him fame and reputation, and were published in the book A Higiene Social Aplicada à Nação Portuguesa [Social Hygiene Applied to the Portuguese Nation], contributing to the debate on the secularization of death, and is considered to be a key moment in the history of public health in Portugal.
Following these events, the Porto City Council invited him to join a study commission on the sanitary conditions of Porto, producing a survey on the urban health conditions and a final report (O Saneamento do Porto), published in 1888.
This important report gave rise to a new invitation by the Porto City Council in 1892, to run the Porto Municipal Health and Hygiene Services and run the Municipal Laboratory of Bacteriology. As a result of these activities, he published a Yearbook and a Monthly Bulletin of Health Statistics of Porto, which made him the forerunner of modern demographic statistics in Portugal.
The increasing reputation of Ricardo Jorge contributed to his progression in academic life. In 1895, he was appointed Titular Professor of the Chair of Hygiene and Forensic Medicine at the Porto Medical-Surgical School.
NIn the course of his work for the City Council, he edited, in 1899, the book Demografia e Higiene da Cidade do Porto [Demography and Hygiene in the City of Porto], in which he combined the study of the origins of Porto with statistical data, and became a work of reference for many similar studies carried out by those who study the history of the city.
Between June and September 1899, Porto was stricken by the bubonic plague, which, in theory, was extinct in the West since the 1700s, but which he diagnosed and reported to the competent authorities, who requested the help of national and international specialists, such as Câmara Pestana, who confirmed his suspicions. Ricardo Jorge's report - A Peste Bubónica no Porto [The Bubonic Plague in Porto] -, published in that same year, gives an account of the discovery of the epidemic and of the first preventive measures.
The preventive measures he announced for the eradication of the plague, such as the isolation of patients and the disinfection of houses where pathological cases had been found, revealed the epidemiologist in him and triggered the anger of the population, urged by political groups. This violent reaction made him leave the city.
In October 1899, already in Lisbon, he was appointed Inspector General of Health (at the Directorate-General for Health) and later taught Hygiene at the Lisbon Medical-Surgical School. In this new phase of his life, he founded, on 28 December 1899, the Central Institute of Hygiene (which later was named after him), with the aim of training health officers and developing research in the field of Public Health. The reform of health services he promoted led to the publication of the Regulamento Geral dos Serviços de Saúde e Beneficência Pública [General Regulations of Health Services and Public Charity] on 24 December 1901.
He helped organize the National Relief Services against Tuberculosis, participated in the International Congress of Medicine in 1906, in which he presided over the Hygiene and Epidemiology Department, collaborated in the reform of medical education in 1911, and in 1912 represented Portugal in the Office Internacional d'Hygiene in Paris, which earned him a good reputation.
In 1913, he began to publish the Archives of the Central Institute of Hygiene, and in 1914 he began editing the statistics on the Physiology Grouping of the Population (1914-1925).
Between 1914 and 1915, he presided over the Society of Medical Sciences. In the subsequent years, he visited sanitary war facilities in France and later organized the fight against the epidemic of pneumonic flu, typhus fever, smallpox and diphtheria, a consequence of the poor sanitary conditions in the post-World War I period.
In 1926, he was given the task of reforming his Regulation on Public Health, dated 1901.
Based on his merit, he was chosen to represent Portugal in the Health Section of the League of Nations. In 1929, he was appointed Chairman of the Higher Technical Hygiene Council.
He wrote numerous scientific articles (on health problems and topics such as diphtheria, cholera, tuberculosis, anti-venereal prevention, typhus fever, leprosy, yellow fever, cancer, smallpox, etc.) but as a curious and intellectually learned man, he also wrote on literature, the history of science and art. He analysed important men of culture and science (Ribeiro Sanches, Luís António Verney, Camilo Castelo Branco, Júlio Dinis, Gil Vicente, Ramalho Ortigão, Rodrigues Lobo, Gomes Leal, Amato Lusitano, Pasteur ou El Greco), tried to demystify historical problems, such as the hypothetical poisoning of King João II, and wrote controversial articles and travel chronicles.
Many of these works were most likely based on books from his vast and erudite library, part of which was donated to the Society of Medical Sciences in 1985.
As he reached the end of his life, he never ceased to work, having participated in a meeting of the International Hygiene Office three months before he died in Lisbon, on 29 July 1939.
He was a distinguished professor, the most important person in Social Medicine in Portugal, and a great humanist, who knew, among others, fellow colleague Professor Maximiano Lemos (1860-1923) and was friends with Camilo Castelo Branco (1825-1890).
(Universidade Digital / Gestão de Informação, 2008)