Significance of the George Macdonald Medal 1987 for Reproductive Health

Friday Okonofua


The doctrine now known as Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) had a beginning and it is important that as advocates of the discipline that the African Journal of Reproductive Health describes its key and important developmental milestones from time to time. The George Macdonald Medal and its prize winner in 1987, Professor Kelsey Harrison is one of such important and critical milestones that should never be forgotten in the evolution of sexual and reproductive health as an international discipline.  In this edition, we document who Professor George Macdonald was, why Professor Kelsey Harrison received an award in his memory in 1987, and why this award has come to be recognized as one of the driving forces for the emergence of the discipline of SRHR.

The life and times of Professor Macdonald (Figure 1) have been well described and documented elsewhere1. In brief, before he died in 1967, he came to be recognized as one of the most pre-eminent figures in the field of tropical medicine worldwide. He graduated as a medical doctor from the University of Liverpool at the age of 21 years and rose rapidly to specialize in the field of public health, graduating with Diploma in Public Health and Doctor of Medicine in Liverpool in 1932.  He worked as a malariologist, and led initial efforts to combat malaria with his establishment of the first global research laboratory on malaria.

His works became significant especially because his era was a time when tropical medicine was hardly known in other parts of the world. He provided the first understanding of the social and medical circumstances under which people lived in the developing world and experienced malaria and other types of infectious diseases. He pioneered several successes in tropical medicine, including the device of an automatic flushing siphon for antimalarial drainage in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). His research efforts led to the improved understanding of the modes of transmission of malaria and schistosomiasis through mathematical modeling and other high profile methods, which provided strong foundational basis for further works in the disciplines.

In recognition of Professor Macdonald’s pioneering and innovative efforts in the field of tropical medicine he was honored jointly by the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (RSTMH), UK, and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), London, with the naming of a medal to be awarded to individuals who mirror his approach and philosophy of innovation and discovery in tropical medicine. In its website, the LSHTM describes the Macdonald Medal as “awarded every three years to recognize outstanding research leading to improvement of health in the tropics”2. Professor Kelsey Harrison (see Figure 2) was awarded the George Macdonald Medal on March 3, 1987 by the RSTMH and the LSHTM “for his outstanding contributions to solving the social and surgical problems of adolescent birth and high maternal mortality in Africa” (citation by the Dean of the LSHTM).  The AJRH recognizes the Macdonald Medal as one of the most prestigious in the field of tropical medicine, and with the Nobel Prize yet to find a candidate for its award in tropical medicine, we recognize this award as one of the most groundbreaking and preeminent for practitioners of tropical medicine.

The biography and the description of the life of Professor Kelsey Harrison (Figure 2) have been documented elsewhere3.

Full Text:



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