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Biographical entry Werb, Abraham (1919 - 2015)

MB ChB Cape Town 1945; DO 1956; DOMS 1956; FRCS 1970.

1 April 1919
Opthalmic surgeon


Abraham Werb was a surgeon in the corneo-plastic unit, Queen Victoria Hospital, East Grinstead. He was born on 1 April 1919 in Lithuania, the son of Maurice Werb and Pia Werb née Frumer. His family was Jewish, and he spent much of his childhood trying to avoid being harassed by the anti-Semitic local youths. As a consequence, Abraham missed much of his early schooling.

In the late 1920s, his father managed to make his way to South Africa. Abraham, then aged eight, was left to help his mother. When his youngest brother became ill and was hospitalised, his mother worked as an auxiliary at the hospital to pay the fees and Abraham was sent away to another town to live with his aunt and uncle. After several years, Abraham and the rest of his family were sent for by his father, who had managed to start a small fish business.

At the age of 13 and knowing no English, Abraham started his education proper in South Africa. After school he worked in the fish shop and studied at night. Eventually, through his consistent efforts, he made it to university. He started studying medicine at Cape Town University in 1939 and qualified in 1945.

In 1946 he began working at the King Edward VIII Hospital in Durban. With no ophthalmological training available in South Africa and being aware of the political situation, Abraham and his family left for England. This was in 1955. A vacancy awaited him as a registrar at Queen Victoria Hospital in East Grinstead under Sir Benjamin Rycroft. Abraham gained his diploma in ophthalmology and a diploma in ophthalmic medicine and surgery in 1956. During the 1960s he spent many nights studying for his FRCS, which he gained in 1970.

His research led him to analyse the anatomy of the tear duct and he developed 'Werb scissors' to carry out surgery on this part of the eye. Abraham also improved the surgical technique for ptosis by inverting the upper lid and operating from under the lid, to avoid scarring.

Abraham was fortunate enough to have his work recognised and was invited to lecture and operate worldwide. Many of his articles were published in medical magazines and journals. He was extremely modest about his many achievements.

Jeanette Werb and family

The Royal College of Surgeons of England