‘Neither science nor disease knows any frontiers’

This week, a Friend told me about Dr. Melville Mackenzie, an epidemiologist with a Quaker connection.

Melville Mackenzie in 1946,
photo from Wikipedia

A Wikipedia rabbit hole led me to the Wellcome Foundation, the research centre, gallery, museum, library and bookshop dedicated to medicine and health. (Their London home is known to many Quakers because it is next door to Friends House.)

The Foundation also houses a collection of health-related documents including the archives of the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations, whose archivist, Elena Carter, wrote up Melville Mackenzie’s life on the Wellcome Foundation blog.

Mackenzie’s service as a medical officer in the First World War gave him substantial experience in managing public health as he treated victims of war, famine and disease (and recognised the powerful connections between all those ills). He held a key position in port health in Liverpool, but resigned it in 1922 to assist with relief work in Russia during the famine. Invited by Ruth Fry, he started work with the Friends’ Emergency & War Victims Relief Committee. He arrived in the Volga Valley in the late spring of 1922 and remained in Russia until July 1923, when he returned to Britain seriously ill from relapsing fever and malaria.

Later in his career he was among the founders of the World Health Organisation, the UN agency now working to contain the Covid-19 pandemic. Apparently Mackenzie was not religious, but had profound respect for Friends.

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