MedUni Vienna: Statue of Ignaz Semmelweis unveiled at MedUni Vienna

Gift from Semmelweis University Budapest to mark 200th birth anniversary of the "inventor" of hand hygiene

The 200th anniversary of Ignaz Semmelweis' birth was commemorated on 1 July 2018. On Wednesday evening, a statue of the doctor, kindly donated by Semmelweis University Budapest, was unveiled at MedUni Vienna, in memory of the "inventor" of hand hygiene. The unveiling ceremony was attended by Hungarian State President János Áder, the first President of Vienna State Parliament, Ernst Woller, Director of Vienna General Hospital Herwig Wetzlinger, Béla Merkely (Rector of Semmelweis University Budapest) and MedUni Vienna Rector Markus Müller. The statue was created by Hungarian artist Péter Párkányi Raab.

"The clinical work, strength of character and determination that characterised Ignaz Semmelweis should serve as an example and inspiration to us all. Ignaz Semmelweis can be counted as one of the ten greatest clinical doctors in the world. He championed his theory throughout his entire life and his insights saved millions of lives. I am delighted that his memorial now stands here at MedUni Vienna – because, after Budapest, Semmelweis's life is primarily associated with Vienna," said Béla Merkely, Rector of Semmelweis University Budapest.

Ignaz Semmelweis was one of the most important doctors of his time and an ardent champion of medical innovation. Medicine has much to thank him for. If he were alive today, he would certainly be a favourite candidate for a Nobel prize. Sadly, his immense achievements were only recognised after his death at the tender age of 47," said Markus Müller, Rector of MedUni Vienna, underscoring the huge importance of Ignaz Semmelweis.

About Ignaz Semmelweis

The Budapest-born, Viennese surgeon and obstetrician (1 July 1818 to 13 August 1865) is regarded as the pioneer of medical hygiene and a champion of medical progress. In the face of strong opposition, he established the strict hospital hand hygiene regulations in around 1847 at the first Viennese Maternity Hospital. This measure significantly reduced mortality due to puerperal (childbed) fever. Semmelweis observed that the mortality rate on obstetric wards where patients were cared for by nuns or midwives was much lower than on wards where doctors and medical students worked, since the latter also performed autopsies.

Semmelweis discovered that the infections, and hence the associated mortality, were caused by the transfer of infectious material (bacteria were not known about at the time). He instructed the doctors and medical students to disinfect their hands thoroughly with a chlorine solution, and later with chlorinated lime, before each delivery or before examining a pregnant woman. This hygiene measure proved extremely effective and the mortality rate fell from a maximum of around 8% to 1.3%. Later on, Semmelweis tightened up these regulations so that doctors had to disinfect their hands before every examination, with the result that, after a few months, there were no fatalities at all.

About the artist

Péter Párkányi Raab, Hungarian sculptor, born in Balassagyarmat on 6 September 1967. He commenced his studies at the Hungarian Academy of Fine Arts in 1987, studying old masters István Kiss and György Jovánovics.  He graduated in 1992 and three years later gained his master’s degree at the Hungarian Academy of Fine Arts.  He strives for integrity in his synthetic materials and seeks beauty, grace, inner harmony and truth in his works. He sees the Semmelweis bust as a salute to the man "who saved wives for their husbands and mothers for their children".