Psychiatrist and professor, Juliano Moreira was born on January 6, 1873, in the coastal city of Salvador in the state of Bahia, Brazil, an area long known for its predominantly African-descended population. Moreira was the son of a Portuguese public lighting inspector and a black housemaid whose employer, a physician, encouraged his early interest in medicine. By 1888, the year Brazil abolished slavery, Moreira, despite the handicap of mixed-racial heritage, was studying at the Bahia School of Medicine (Faculdade de Medicina da Bahia). At age eighteen, he completed his highly-commended doctoral thesis on malignant syphilis praecox, then traveled to Europe for further study under Rudolf Virchow in Germany, and Joseph Jules Déjérine and Valentin Magnan in France.
Throughout his career, Moreira maintained a fascination with skin diseases and the treatment of nervous and mental abnormalities. In 1894 he co-founded in Bahia the Society of Medicine and Surgery and served as medical examiner serving the poor of Salvador and the surrounding region. His article on arsenic poisoning in the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease helped secure an appointment as professor of psychiatry at the University of Bahia in 1896. While he was at the university, he launched the Clinic for Neurology and Psychiatry at the Hospital Santa Isabel where he initiated lumbar puncture to diagnose certain maladies. His second trip to Europe in 1899 allowed him to attend conferences and lectures, tour clinics and hospitals, and establish relationships with fellow professionals, including most importantly the German psychiatrist Emil Kraepelin who Moreira regarded as his mentor. Also in Europe, Moreira married his German fiancée, Augusta Peick.
Returning to Bahia, he was soon in the forefront of the effort to place laboratories in hospitals, implement clinotherapy to relieve psychosis, and modernize mental treatment facilities. In 1903 at age thirty, Moreira was made director of the National Hospital for the Insane in Rio de Janeiro where he immediately ordered sweeping reforms affecting its two thousand patients and thirty physicians. During his thirty-year tenure as director, he drafted legislation that eventually became Brazilian law. These measures ensured the humane treatment of the mentally ill in Brazil, had iron bars removed from asylum windows, banned the use of unnecessary mechanical restraints on patients, and improved sanitary conditions and established medical wards and laboratories to combat diseases. Under his leadership, a lecture hall, occupational therapy shops, and farm colonies were added to the asylum.
Moreira authored scores of scholarly treatises, including one in which he blamed Portugal’s colonial policy restricting foreign contacts for retarding modern science in Brazil. Committed to challenging pseudoscientific and racist assumptions of his era, in a 1913 journal article on dementia paralytica in Brazil, he asserted climate was not the cause of increased rates of syphilis in urban areas and that there was, “neither pathological nor anatomical differences in the paresis affected brains of blacks, whites, and mestizos.”
Juliano Moreira died in Salvador May 2, 1932. Because of his pioneering work in Brazil and professional activities abroad, Moreira enjoyed an international reputation, receiving various honors and awards in Europe, Japan, and the United States. Revered as the father of modern psychiatry in Brazil, today the Hospital Juliano Moreira in Salvador reminds us of his legacy.