Intended for healthcare professionals


Wanda Blenska

BMJ 2015; 350 doi: (Published 23 February 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;350:h640
  1. Ned Stafford, Hamburg
  1. ns{at}

Polish leprosy expert who spent over 40 years in Uganda treating patients and training doctors

As a child in her native Poland, Wanda Blenska had one dream in life: to be a missionary doctor in Africa. But after completing medical studies in 1934 at the University of Poznan, Blenska was rejected by missionary organisations that operated hospitals in Africa.

The reason? She was an unmarried woman. She was told that if she were willing to become a nun attached to a convent they would send her to Africa. Although a devout Catholic, Blenska declined.

As she explained years later: “The missionaries were convinced that with the closed convent life of the sisters and long distances to the nearest white community, no solitary lay worker—especially a woman—could stand the arduous life.”

So Blenska remained in Poland, working at various hospitals—but she did not give up her dream. She held it tightly during the Nazi occupation of Poland during the second world war, while serving with the Polish resistance, and then during the subsequent Soviet occupation of Poland. She carried the dream with her when she escaped to West Germany—to find her ailing brother—by hiding in the coal room of a freight ship by bribing a guard patrolling the docks. Her next move was to England, where she worked in …

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