Zenon George Panos

BMJ 2015; 350 doi: (Published 09 January 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;350:h145
  1. Marios Z Panos, George Z Panos

Zenon George Panos was born in the village of Stroumbi, Paphos. He was the son of the village school teacher George P Georgiades. He recalled that as a child he learnt to write at the village school by using a stick of charcoal on a slate. In his teens, he survived typhoid fever and in his 20s, pneumonia.

After qualifying from the University of Athens Medical School, he received postgraduate training in public health hygiene and environmental engineering, specialising in malaria control, at the Rockefeller Foundation in Athens. After his father’s untimely death in 1937, he returned to Paphos, where he was appointed medical officer in the colonial administration. He later gave fascinating accounts of house calls to remote hamlets, which were accessible only by a long mule ride.

In 1938 the then chief medical officer, Errol Neff, assigned him a pilot project, (which was later extended by Rex E Cheverton, Neff’s successor), for the control of malaria in the infested area of Limni, near Polis in the district of Paphos. This entailed identifying, draining, and systematic spraying of all stagnant water with petroleum products and Paris green (copper (II) acetate triarsenite), in order to destroy larvae of the Anopheles mosquito, and the use of the natural insecticide pyrethrin. The result was a sharp drop in malaria cases in the area. Work was interrupted by the outbreak of the second world war. Experience derived from the Limni pilot project proved invaluable in the planning and implementation of the Cyprus Anopheles Eradication Scheme which was to follow. In 1944 Rex Cheverton, who was convinced that total eradication of the Anopheles mosquito was possible in Cyprus, recommitted Zenon Panos, along with the chief health inspector, Mehmed Aziz, to the elaboration of a plan for the new campaign. The latter (who was to have a defining role in the execution of the undertaking) was dispatched to Egypt, where he studied the campaign for the eradication of Anopheles gambiae, which was already in progress in the Nile valley. With encouragement and support from a favourable on-site assessment by F L Soper of the International Rockefeller Foundation, the campaign for the eradication of the Anopheles mosquito in Cyprus began in 1946, under the direction of a new chief medical officer, Horace Shelley. The newly introduced agent DDT was used extensively. Where shortages of DDT occurred, the previously tested petroleum products and Paris green were substituted. Zenon Panos made a major contribution to the eradication scheme, which spanned four years, ending in 1949. In February 1950 Cyprus was declared free from malaria, winning a challenge from Sardinia as to which island was to eradicate malaria first. The prize was a substantial quantity of wine, which was distributed among the campaign workers. Two bottles of Zenon’s share of the Sardinian wine remained untouched until the 1980’s.

In the early 1940s, in parallel with the malaria eradication work under the direction of Rex Cheverton, Zenon had a leading part in the advent of the rural health scheme, which entailed the practical training of health personnel, an island wide education campaign at community level on sanitation and hygiene, and a plan to establish rural health centres and child care centres throughout the island. A major aspect of the rural health scheme was the maternal and child health programme, which included the training of midwives and health visitors, to provide support and educate expectant mothers before and after delivery, contributing to a sharp drop in infant mortality. In the same decade Zenon was instrumental in formulating the legal framework and introducing measures to eliminate hydatid disease. During the war years, he was district medical officer for Kyrenia. His duties included a major commitment to a mostly Polish refugee camp in the area, while continuing with planning and field work in the district of Nicosia. In 1945 he established and ran the first rural health centre in the village of Athienou. In 1947 the project, despite having been shown to be highly beneficial to the area served, was deemed too costly by the colonial government, and plans for the establishment of more rural health centres were abandoned in favour of the introduction of mobile health units.

After attending courses at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the civil defence school at Sunningdale in 1950, Zenon served as district medical officer in Nicosia, Limassol, and Famagusta.

In 1958, having served as district medical officer in all six of the island’s administrative districts, he was appointed deputy chief medical officer. In 1960, after independence, he was appointed chief medical officer (director of medical and health services). Between 1960 and 1969 he furthered measures to eliminate hydatid disease; restructured training at the school of nursing and midwifery, achieving recognition of equivalence to the UK qualification in the process; and enhanced the rural health scheme by reviving the project to establish an island wide network of rural health centres (still in operation today) and extending the maternal and child health programme. In the same decade he was responsible for overhauling and upgrading the provision of psychiatric services throughout the island. He also served as chairman of the Cyprus St John Ambulance Association (rank of commander) and on the council of the Cyprus Red Cross Society. Between 1969 and 1974 he served as senior adviser to the World Health Organization in South Yemen and Iraq on projects for manpower development, and from 1974 to 1991 he worked as medical officer to a construction company in Oman.

Throughout his working life, in parallel with his administrative duties, Zenon continued practicing clinical medicine. He was much loved for being approachable and generous, and for having a happy and optimistic outlook. On one occasion, when a WHO official who was due to greet him at Geneva airport asked how he would recognize Zenon, he was just told: “He wears a bow tie and has a smiling face.” The official recognized him instantly.

He spent his retirement years in good health at home in Nicosia. He remained an avid reader of The BMJ until the age of 102. He died peacefully at the age of 105. He leaves a wife, two sons, and two granddaughters.


Cite this as: BMJ 2015;350:h145


  • Former chief medical officer Cyprus (b 1909; q Athens 1935), d 11 September 2014.

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