John Guillebaud

In 1992 John Guillebaud was appointed by University College, London as Professor (now Emeritus) of Family Planning and Reproductive Health, the world's first practising gynaecologist to be given a personal chair in the specialty. His clinical, teaching and research work is now in Oxford (Radcliffe Infirmary and Churchill Hospital) but as a Trustee of the Margaret Pyke Memorial 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 new methods of birth control are investigated with the help of the associated Trust.

Professor Guillebaud's family are Huguenots who came to England more than 300 years ago, and so he retains the French name as it has always been spelled: it is pronounced in two syllables quite simply as "gil-boe". He was born in Burundi, Africa, brought up in Rwanda, and educated in Uganda, Kenya and Britain. At Cambridge in 1959 he attended an undergraduate lecture on the population "explosion" which he describes as changing his life. Through the lecturer's apocalyptic description of the future, the daunting problems which would be inescapable on an ever more overcrowded planet, he caught the vision expressed (much later) by UNICEF: that "Family Planning could bring more benefits to more people at less cost than any other single technology now available to the human race". If this was so close to being not only the most important medical specialty but also the most neglected, it was the specialty for him.

Soon after qualifying he spent six months as Medical Officer on the Royal Society Expedition to Mato Grosso, Brazil (1967-1968). He has travelled to every continent promoting planned parenthood and concern for the environment, and in 1993 received the prestigious Evian/Birthright Health Award "for his tireless campaigning on overpopulation: human numbers, a crucial factor in meeting human needs on a finite planet". He proposed and co-ordinated the Environment Time Capsule project. The first capsules were buried at strategic sites in Mexico, Britain, South Africa, the Seychelles and Australia on World Environment Day, 1994. These and subsequent time capsules worldwide contain relevant artifacts and letters of apology plus commitment to the addressees who will open them in June 2044 - "our grandchildren, from whom this earth is borrowed".

Professor Guillebaud has authored or co-authored seven books and more than 300 other publications, is Co-Chair of the Optimum Population Trust, acts as a consultant for WHO and is a member of other international and national expert committees. His wife Gwyneth is a nurse and works in a children's hospice: they have two sons and one daughter.

9 May 2004.

The above CV was supplemented in 2014 as a light-hearted Profile in the British Medical Journal. See here.