Archie McIndoe

Born in New Zealand on May 4, 1900, Archie moved to England in 1931 having done his fellowship in the Mayo Clinic, USA where he received basic training in surgery.

On completion of his degree, he decided to move to England where he thought there would be better prospects. His cousin, Sir Harold Gilles encouraged him to take up plastic surgery and became his mentor and friend when he moved to England.

During World War II, Archie’s small Queen Victoria cottage hospital in East Grinstead, Sussex received many young pilots of the Royal Air Force whose faces, hands and bodies had been badly burnt or mutilated during the Battle of Britain. In this hospital, he took on the responsibility of trying to ‘mend’ the young men, their lives and teach them how to pick themselves up to live normal lives once more.

He took on this duty with such zeal and enthusiasm, but his concentration on this heavy load inevitably took a toll on his strength and stamina. He was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1944 and later in 1947 knighted, Sir Archibald McIndoe. In May of that year, he was invited by one of his ex-pilot patients to visit him in East Africa. He fell in love with the Tanganyika countryside, now Tanzania, and made it his home.

In 1954 he married Constance Belcher who made the move to Africa with him. His love for nature and his new Ol Orien farm on Mt. Kilimanjaro helped revitalise his body and mind. He became an avid farmer cultivating cereals, pyrethrum and coffee.

In England, Sir Simon Marks endowed The Marks Plastic Surgery Fellowship. In the programme, one surgeon would be selected to train under Sir Archibald McIndoe for a period of twelve months. One of the young men who attended the programme was Michael Wood and another, Thomas Rees a Welshman from Salt Lake City, USA. With the help of the 2 surgeons in his training, the dream of Amref Health Africa and the Flying Doctors begun to form.

Sir Archibald McIndoe continued to juggle his life in England and the Kilimanjaro farm. He was elected Vice-President of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1958. With the need for fundraising for Amref Health Africa being rather apparent, he spearheaded the establishment of the UK chapter which took place in 1961. He was instrumental in forming many much needed connections for fundraising reasons.

After a dinner given by the Saints and Sinners on April 11, 1960, Sir Archibald McIndoe passed away peacefully in his sleep in the early hours of the following day. He never lived to see his dream for Amref Health Africa grow.

After his death, the Blond-McIndoe Research Unit was opened in his memory by the Minister of Health at the Queen Victoria Hospital on March 22, 1961.

In 1957, Michael Wood, one of the three founding surgeons of Amref Health Africa consulted the famous Dr Albert Schweitzer at his Leprosy Mission Hospital in Lambarene, West Africa. How, he asked can we serve the 80% of rural Africans who live beyond the reach of urban medical facilities? "Use the tools of our time," was his answer. Aeroplanes and radios were the tools of that time and became the framework of Amref Health Africa. 

Now, the computer has joined the aeroplane as the tool of choice to bring modern health care to remote rural hospitals. Using mobile phones and computers Amref Health Africa consultants can advise doctors (often not specialists) in rural hospitals through audio and video links on how to handle difficult medical cases.

Amref Health Africa's great strength is its ability to realise the African community's potential. A community health worker in Uganda likened Amref Health Africa's technique to that of a knife sharpener: "We were blunt tools in the community until Amref Health Africa sharpened us."