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Biographical entry Sharif, Mohamed (1912 - 2014)

MB BS Bombay 1936; FRCS 1951.

7 January 1912
Nabha, Punjab, India
18 January 2014
Military surgeon


Mohammed Sharif was a military doctor in the Pakistan, a World Health Organization (WHO) representative in Africa and ultimately director of UNRWA (the United National Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East) operations on the West Bank. He was born on 7 January 1912 in Nabha, India, the son of Hakim Fateh Mohammed Khan, a physician, and Fatima Begum, a housewife. He studied medicine at Bombay University and qualified MB BS in 1936.

He held junior posts in surgery and urology at the Grant Medical College and the Sir J J Hospital, Bombay. He was then medical officer in charge of a Bombay Municipality Dispensary (from October 1936 to March 1939). In 1938 he was commissioned into the Indian Medical Service, initially with the rank of lieutenant. A year later, he was awarded a Sir Currimbhoy Ebrahim scholarship by Bombay University for postgraduate study abroad.

He arrived in the UK in April 1939, joined St Bartholomew's Hospital and began to study for the primary examination of the FRCS, due to be held in November, however, in September 1939, at the start of the Second World War, he was recalled by the Indian government for active duty. After an eventful journey back to the subcontinent, when the convoy he was travelling in was fired at by a German U-boat, he joined the Fourth Indian Division. He served in Egypt, Eritrea, Sudan, Palestine, Iraq and Cyprus, and ended the war as a major and a specialist in advanced military surgery.

He returned to India in January 1945, where he was officer in charge of the surgical division at the Combined Military Hospital in Sialkot, Punjab, a post he held for two years. From February 1947 to the end of December 1948, he was commanding officer at the Combined Military Hospital, Bannu, in the North-West Frontier Province, on the boarder near Afghanistan.

On 14 August 1947, Pakistan came into being and Sharif acquired Pakistani nationality. The new government granted him permission to return to the UK to resume his interrupted postgraduate studies. After time spent at the Royal College of Surgeons, Guy's, St Thomas', St Peter's and St Paul's hospitals and the Institute of Urology he gained the FRCS in 1951 and also a diploma in urology.

In September 1951 he returned to Pakistan and resumed his Army medical career. He was first stationed in Baluchistan, where he was the commanding officer and a surgical specialist until March 1954. He subsequently became assistant director of medical services at the Pakistan Army division at Lahore, deputy director of medical services for the Army Medical Corps and finally director of medical services for the Pakistan Air Force. While holding this latter post, he was sent to the School of Aviation Medicine in San Antonio, Texas, USA, where he gained a diploma in aviation medicine.

In May 1959 he was transferred from the military into the Pakistan Civil Service, becoming director general of health and joint secretary of the Ministry of Health, Labour and Social Welfare, with the task of developing the country's health services.

In 1963 he joined WHO, initially as a representative in Tanganyika and Zanzibar, where he helped establish a new medical school at Dar es Salaam. From 1964 to 1975 he was director of health and WHO representative at UNRWA headquarters, Beirut, Lebanon, concerned with the health needs of the 1.5 Palestinian Arab refugees across the Middle East. From 1975 to 1977, he was director of UNRWA operations on the West Bank, carrying the responsibility for UNRWA's relief, health and education services for some 200,000 Palestinians living in the territory of the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and Gaza.

He officially retired in January 1977, but was subsequently appointed as a consultant to the WHO European regional office in Copenhagen, Denmark. During the same period, he taught public health administration and management at the American University of Beirut's school of public health.

He received many awards, including the 1939-49 Star, the Africa Star, the Defence medal and the War medal for his service in the Second World War, the Queen Elizabeth II Coronation medal (in 1949), the Pakistan Independence Medal (in 1947), the Republic of Pakistan Medal (in 1956) and the Sitara-i-Qaid-e-Azam, Pakistan's civil honour (in 1961).

He was married to Rukshar and they had two sons (Altan and Sharouh) and three daughters (Ediz, Temriz and Gulseren). He died on 18 January 2014, shortly after his 102nd birthday.

Sarah Gillam

Sources used to compile this entry: [Quarterly News Association of Former WHO Staff October 2014 p.17 - accessed 12 March 2016; United Nations Career Records Project 4 January 1990].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England