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Renowned Venezuelan expert on leprosy Jacinto Convit dies

By Eyanir Chinea

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan doctor and scientist Jacinto Convit, renowned for his development of a leprosy vaccine and a lifetime spent helping the poor, died on Monday at the age of 100.

Born in 1913 of a Spanish immigrant family and educated at a university in Caracas, Convit was moved by the stigmatization of leprosy patients and worked with them in the marginalized outskirts of the city as well as remote jungle areas.

"Dr. Convit became a popular hero in Venezuela due to his dedication to the poor and to patients with feared conditions," said an announcement of his death on his website.

"Throughout his career, he never charged his patients."

In 1987, Convit combined existing tuberculosis treatment and a bacteria found in armadillos to design a new vaccination against leprosy that became used worldwide.

Leprosy is a chronic infectious disease causing disfiguring skin ulcers and nerve damage in the arms and legs. Over time, it can cause inability to feel pain and the loss of parts of the extremities. In the past, the disease has been stigmatized as incurable, with patients often shunned as outcasts.

The Venezuelan government nominated Convit for a Nobel Prize in 1988, but he did not win.

Among many international honors, he won Spain's Prince of Asturias Award and France's Legion of Honor.

Convit also discovered a vaccination against leishmaniasis, a tropical skin disease transmitted by sand flies associated with poverty and malnutrition.

Latterly, Convit continued working on the search for a cancer cure and published his last study in 2013 aged 100.

"I don't lose sleep over not winning the Nobel Prize, but I do over finding the cure for cancer," he said.

Convit's family confirmed his death in a short statement sent to media in Venezuela, without specifying the cause.

"After 100 years of life and dedication to humanity via medicine, Dr. Jacinto Convit Garcia has passed away," they said.

(Writing by Andrew Cawthorne, editing by G Crosse)

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