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On 9 November 2003, at 54 years, Dr Francisco Javier Català died, known as Patxi for the many friends conquered by his seductive looks and his professional activity. His death came prematurely after a long illness, which, much to his regret, he transformed into another of the many episodes in which his lack of conformism shined. A battle that witnessed to his limitless love for life until the very last week and that didn’t prevent him enjoying it until the sudden outcome, when the last breath was already escaping from his body.
Patxi was born in Navarre, lived his youth in Madrid, and reached maturity in Andalusia. He made compatible his study of medicine at the Universidad Complutense of Madrid with a political activity that took him to the Carabanchel prison, an experience which he didn’t flaunt, although he kept the affectionate memory of people he met there and the much time that he devoted to literature, one of his favourite interests.
His social consciousness determined his early vocation for the public health, from his student days, and that later took him to the General Directorate of Public Health. After the restoration of the Ministry of Health, he became one of the most outstanding representatives of the generation of epidemiologists and public health practitioners that stood out during the period of transition to democracy in Spain. Later he carried out the responsibility of Deputy Director of Epidemiology in the Ministry of Health until the mid-eighties, when he was appointed for leading the project of creating the Andalusian School of Public Health (EASP, Escuela Andaluza de Salud Pública).
The EASP, inaugurated in 1985, was the first of the schools of public health created by the new Autonomous Communities (Regions) of Spain, and the one that has best survived the difficulties of a health system disproportionately focused on the care sector. Patxi had been the soul of the EASP, and had continued serving it until the last moment. He was able to build the EASP from scratch into a reference for Andalusian, Spanish, and international public health.
A man of action, Patxi knew to counteract the sterility of rhetoric and doctrinal controversies, with the research and educational activities that the health system needed most. In this way public health could assume front line responsibility and leadership over the whole health system, with an effective contribution to the improvement of the population’s health and the rationalisation of the health organisations. A contribution that is already confirmed by a generation of public health practitioners and health services managers from all over the world. Not in vain international cooperation is one of the main areas of the EASP.
Dr Catalá was a founding member of the Spanish Society of Epidemiology (SEE) and of the Spanish Society of Public Health and Health Administration (SESPAS); his legacy has left a deep impression among the epidemiologists and the Spanish public health community that his physical disappearance won’t be able to erase.
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