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Arthur Ferguson MacCallan

Born 1872-10-23
Died 1955-03-31

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British ophthalmologist, born October 23, 1872, New Basford; died March 31, 1955, Westminster Hospital, London.

Biography of Arthur Ferguson MacCallan

Arthur Ferguson MacCallan was the only son of the Reverend J. Ferguson MacCallan, vicar of New Basford, Notts, who had left Northern Ireland to settle in Nottinghamshire.

He was educated at Charterhouse, Christ's College, Cambridge, , where he secured the Darwin Prize, and St. Marchy's Hospital Medical School, London, where he was a University Exhibitioner. He was for some years a keen soccer player, but his athletic career was cut short by a serious accident to his knee while at Cambridge.

After qualifying in 1898 he graduated M.B., B.Ch. in the following year and also took the F.R.C.S. In 1913 he proceeded to M.D.

Early in his career MacCallan decided to specialize in ophthalmology. As a student he had been taken to Moorfields by Mr. Silcock, spent three years in ophthalmic training as a house surgeon to that hospital.

The scourge of eye disease in Egypt was an age-old problem, which had received particular recognition in Europe since the return of troops from the Napoleonic Wars. At the turn of the century Sir Ernest Cassel (1852-1921), who had been interested in the construction of the Nile dam at Asswan, was moved by the prevalence of blindness  in Egypt to donate a sum to further the education of Egyptian medical men in ophthalmic diseases. As a first step it was decided to establish a mobile hospital. In Julyy 1903 MacCallan was appointed as ophthalmologist in the department of public health in Cairo, with the task of being in charge of this hospital.

His success was immediate. A vast organization, ultimately comprising base ophthalmic hospitals in each of the capital towns of the fourteen Egyptian provinces, six travelling hospitals and numerous subsidiary clinics. The training of Egyptian ophthalmic surgeons received prior  consideration, and regular courses of lectures and clinical instruction were provided. Research facilities were at first established in small centres, but these were superseded some years later by the magnificent Ophthalmic Laboratory at Giza, near Cairo, built as a memorial to the men of the Egyptian Camel Corps and Labour Corps, who had been killed in the war. No less important was the provision of ophthalmic treatment in all Government primary schools throughout Egypt, an innovation which was at first received with some hostility. Lord Kitchener was particularly interested in these activities, and at his suggestion MacCallan undertook a programme of clinical research in ankylostomiasis and bilharziasis, for which four large tented hospitals were established.
By the time he returned to England mass treatment had been instituted, and the disease seemed to be at least under some sort of control.

MacCallan was in England at the outbreak of the 1914 war, but at once returned to Egypt were he concentrated the travelling and tented hospitals at Alexandria as a general hospital for British and Australian sick and wounded. The static eye hospitals throughout the country were used for convalescent cases, though their out-patient departments were maintained as ophthalmic centres.
Later in the war MacCallan served as surgeon at a base hospital in Mersa Matruh, with the rank of Major, R.A.M.C. In 1920 he was made a C.B.E.

His work in Egypt provided MacCallan with unparalleled experience in the study of tropical diseases of the eye, and in particular of trachoma, on which he became a recognized world authority. 

In 1923 MacCallan resigned from the service of the Egyptian Government. His great contributions to medicine in that country were recognized by two Egyptian decorations, and by the unique distinction of a bust of himself, presented by the ophthalmic surgeons of Egypt, which was unveiled by the High Commissioner in 1931. 

MacCallan returned to England in 1924 and started a practice in London. In the same year he saw an
advertisement in The Times for the post of assistant ophthalmic surgeon to Westminster Hospital, and he successfully applied for this. He was later appointed also as surgeon to the Royal Eye Hospital. Besides this he had a private practice.

On reaching the age of 65 in 1937 he retired from the active staff of the Westminster, but he returned to the hospital during the second world war. Thereafter he still continued his researches in trachoma in a laboratory at the Westminster Medical School. In 1935 he was appointed as second president of the International Organization against Trachoma, a high office that he held for 20 years.

We thank William Charles Caccamise Sr, MD, for information submitted.

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