“As a West Indian, I have always regarded my service
as a privilege.”
Professor Annamunthodo was the first West Indian to be appointed to a Chair in the Faculty of Medicine at the University College of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica. He was an outstanding teacher at the University, a founding member of the Association of Surgeons in Jamaica and was instrumental in building the capability of not just the Medical Department in Jamaica, but also other medical training facilities throughout the Caribbean.
In his 25 years of teaching at UWI, he contributed to the training of over 1500 medical graduates, who are now holding leading positions throughout the West Indies, North America and other parts of the world. His speed and dexterity as a surgeon were well known, as well as his interest in carcinoma of the penis (of which he was probably the world’s expert in his day) and surgical venereal diseases.
Harry Annamunthodo was born in Essequibo, Guyana on 26th April 1920. As a young boy, he always knew that he wanted to be a doctor and he expressed this desire in a particularly interesting childhood quirk. When animals died, young Harry was always quick to dissect the bodies trying to understand what caused their death. He was a good student in primary school and secured a scholarship to attend the prestigious Queen’s College in Georgetown in 1935. He continued his good academic performance in both the arts and the sciences at secondary school and won the coveted British Guiana Scholarship in 1939.
Since the World War was still taking place, he did not take up the scholarship until 1941, when he went to the London Hospital Medical College, University of London, where he studied medicine. He won several prizes while at University, including the Charrington prize in Anatomy, the prize in Surgery, and the T.A.M. Ross prize in Medicine and Pathology. He graduated in 1946 and obtained the Diploma in Tropical Medicine and Hygiene in 1947, and the Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons in England in 1951.
He then worked as the Senior Registrar at King George V Hospital in Illford, Essex for two years, where he was mentored by the famous abdominal surgeon, Mr. Herman Taylor, who inspired his interest and skill in surgery. Though he spent 8 years in England after qualifying, he always wanted to work in the West Indies. In 1953, he entered the University College Hospital of the West Indies at Mona as Senior Surgical Registrar, with a great desire to work at this recently opened institution. He became a temporary Lecturer in Medicine in 1955 and gained permanent appointment in 1957.
He became a Senior Lecturer also in 1957, and four years later was elevated to the Chair and became Head of the Department of Surgery. This demonstrated the most rapid promotion in the history of this Faculty, which was even more remarkable given that it was still the colonial period, and he thus became the first West Indian Professor of Surgery. Following elevation to this Chair, he was named Hunterian Professor to the Royal College of Surgeons of England and elected to Fellowship in the American College of Surgeons. He also previously held an appointment to Yale University as the Rockefeller Research Fellow for training in cardiac surgery. In 1967, Her Majesty the Queen knighted him for his service to Medicine and Medical Education in the Caribbean region.
Student and peer accounts of his teaching communicate the value of his contributions. According to the present UWI Chancellor, Sir George Alleyne, himself an outstanding graduate of the UWI Mona Faculty of Medicine: “His dexterity, calmness and self-confidence became legendary”; “he was invaluable for the manner in which he presented facts and opinions in a concise, orderly fashion”; “he was an expert surgeon and excellent teacher, someone who was approachable and interested, and kind and concerned for patients”; “it was not what he said, but what he did that gave him the respect and affection of staff and students alike”.
Dr. David Picou, a now-retired Trinidadian medical researcher who was an intern under Sir Annamunthodo, noted that “He loved to teach; he was an excellent teacher and a first-rate surgeon”. This was endorsed by Annamunthodo’s son, who indicated that his father probably loved teaching more than surgery. He notes that his father was always quick to offer words of encouragement to his students and to ensure that they excelled as physicians.
Apart from his teaching responsibilities, Sir Annamunthodo made other contributions to the University, by serving on several committees, and in particular, through his supervision of the construction of the Faculty Building in Medicine. His attention to detail is demonstrated by the fact that the physical structure has survived with little or no maintenance for all these years.
In his contributions to the development of medicine in the Caribbean it was Sir Annamunthodo who encouraged Dr. Knolly Butler to go to Trinidad to set up the Eastern Caribbean Medical Scheme. He also helped to co-ordinate the teaching of surgery in Barbados. Additionally, through Project Hope and with the assistance of Dr. Mickey Walrond, the Surgical Residency Programme was begun at Mona. It was said of Sir Annamunthodo that “he collected around him a group of dedicated academic surgeons who made Mona the centre of excellence and ultimate referral for the Caribbean area”.
In 1979, he departed the University, and the Senate of the UWI conferred the status of Professor Emeritus on him. He then took up an appointment as Professor of Surgery at the University of Kebangsaan in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. At this new posting, initiated by the Commonwealth Secretariat, Sir Annamunthodo was said to have thoroughly enjoyed developing the university’s new postgraduate programme. He held this post until his death in 1986.
Sir Annamunthodo’s legacy is noted in the naming of a final year prize in surgery at UWI Mona in his honour and in the “Sir Harry Annamunthodo Lecture” also hosted by the institution. The obituary of the Barbados Association Medical Practitioners best encapsulates the contribution which Sir Annamunthodo made to the training of surgeons in the Caribbean: “His seed is scattered throughout the Caribbean; let us remember to tend it, for making it flourish would provide the reward he sought.”
This Icon is also featured in the Video Documentary and Caribbean Icons in Science, Technology and Innovation Volume I :
Tribute to Professor Sir Harry Annamunthodo, Kt, FRCS by Carl Jackman, CBE, MA Saturday 13th September 1986. 6 pgs.
Masson, Andrew F. (1988) The inaugural Sir Harry Annamunthodo Lecture. 10 pgs.
Fletcher, P.R. (1999) Special article: Sir Harry Annamunthodo. West Indian Medical Journal 48 (1): 6-8.
Annamunthodo, H. and Pinkerton, J.H. (1955) Post eclamptic anuria complicated by haemorrhage into a duodenal cyst. Postgrad Medical Journal Oct 31(360): 525-537.
Annamunthodo, H. and Pinkerton, J.H. (1957) Candidal cystitis in pregnancy: report of two cases. Obstetrics and Gynecology 10:428-431.
Annamunthodo, H. (1959) Observations on cancer of the oesophagus in Jamaica. West Indian Medical Journal Jun. 8:92-100.
Annamunthodo, H. (1961) Rectal lymphogranuloma venereum in Jamaica. Dis Colon Rectum 4:17.
Annamunthodo, H. and Marryatt, J. (1961) Barium studies in intestinal lymphogranuloma venereum. British Journal of Radiology 34:53-57.
Queens College, Guyana
London Hospital Medical College, University of London MB, BS
Diploma in Tropical Medicine and Hygiene
Fellow, Royal College of Surgeons (England)
Fellow, American College of Surgeons (USA)
Fellow, Royal Australian College of Surgeons (Australia)
Association of Surgeons in Jamaica
Knight Bachelor (1967)
Emeritus Professor, UWI
Hunterian Professor to the Royal College of Surgeons, England
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