Our history

The Institute of Tropical Medicine (ITM) has been around for over a century. Initially, we trained doctors and nurses for Congo. Now we are an international reference for education, medicine, science and global health.
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Old villa in Brussels

In 1906, King Leopold II founded the School for Tropical Diseases in a Brussels villa. He wanted to train doctors and nurses to work in the Free State of Congo.

Tropical institutes also sprung up in England, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Portugal.

The School for Tropical Disease was not officially linked to a clinic at the time. At the time, patients were received at the Villa Coloniale in Watermael-Boitsfort.

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Art deco in Antwerp

In 1931, the school merged with the Clinic Leopold II for Tropical Diseases and, under the impetus of the future Leopold III, moved to the characteristic art deco building in Antwerp, a stone's throw from the Congo docks.

The Prince Leopold Institute of Tropical Medicine, abbreviated as the Institute of Tropical Medicine, was born.

For a long time, ITM remained primarily a training institute for people going to the tropics, and a hospital for people returning from it,

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Decolonisation

Congo gained independence in 1960. The ITG had to reorient itself. It was now no longer training colonials, but development helpers.

In 1964, we expanded our offerings to tropical veterinary medicine.

Our students increasingly came from all over the world. And our professors also taught in developing countries.

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Scientific research

Academic education cannot exist without scientific research. That is why, from the 1970s onwards, we conducted much more research in the developing countries themselves.

The result? We also started providing medical assistance, working with local researchers, institutes and authorities.

Besides treating and preventing diseases, we also fought their socio-economic factors.

We started studying epidemics and designing public health systems. This laid the foundation for the Department of Public Health.

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From tropical to global medicine

Neglected diseases such as dengue, sleeping sickness and leishmaniasis affect millions of people every year. Due to globalisation and climate change, they are evolving from tropical to global diseases. And we are following that evolution closely.

In 1976, a mysterious deadly disease broke out in Yambuku in what was then Zaire. ITM scientists such as Peter Piot and Guido van der Groen went on site with an international team and established the first Ebola outbreak. Since then, the ITM has been monitoring new outbreaks. When Ebola began to emerge in the north in 2014-2016, our expertise became a national reference.

Institutes of tropical medicine have been seeking cures for sexually transmitted diseases since their inception. So, since the 1980s, also for AIDS. In fact, our researchers discovered that AIDS also rages in Africa and laid the foundation of current international research on AIDS and HIV.

In 2013, we were awarded management of the world's largest collection of tuberculosis samples by the WHO. And in 2016, the same organisation recognised a shorter treatment for the disease developed at ITM by Professor Armand Van Deun.

In recent years, we have been conducting innovative research on COVID-19, pushing for the complete elimination of sleeping sickness, closely monitoring antibiotic resistance and closely monitoring the arrival of exotic mosquito species in Belgium. Annually, we carry out over 40 international projects, publish more than 400 peer reviewed publications and coordinate dozens of clinical trials.

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Expansion

By 2001, three times more scientists worked at ITM than at the beginning. So we started looking for an additional campus. Coincidentally, the nuns further down the Sint-Rochusstraat sold their seventeenth-century convent. A beautiful protected monument that we were able to transform into a modern teaching campus with the financial support of the Department of Monuments and Sites, the National Lottery and the Department of Education. These renovation works were finished in 2006, just in time for our centenary.

A major reform took place in 2012. The five scientific departments were reduced to three. The Departments of Parasitology, Microbiology, Veterinary Sciences, Clinical Sciences and Public Health were reduced to the Departments of Biomedical Sciences, Clinical Sciences and Public Health. Thematically, we will from now on speak of the "three Ps": "pathogens", "patients" and "populations". In this way, we aim to increase scientific excellence and operational efficiency.

In 2021, we started a thorough analysis of our infrastructure. This resulted in the Buildings Master Plan, which looked at all aspects of the management of our buildings. The Master Plan guides future renovations and expansions, with scientific innovation, sustainability and heritage management in mind.

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Centre of excellence

Today we strive to stand at the international forefront in research, education and services with the ultimate aim to solve actual health problems.

ITM is an internationally renowned, but we are even more than that: a hub in an international network with dozens of partner institutes.

We help them build capacity in research and healthcare. And together we strive for equal chances at a healthy life for all.