Professor David Morley: Pioneer in children's health care for more than half a century

David Morley was a driving force for children's health worldwide for more than 50 years, active until the end of his life in advocating the key themes of his career: growth and nutrition, the involvement of parents and children in their own health care, and health-worker education. To many thousands of health professionals around the world he was a very special person: an idealist who practised what he preached and a charismatic role model and teacher. From his early days he believed in a bottom-up rather than a top-down approach, in offering rather than withholding knowledge, and in the empowerment of parents to be the key health workers.

David Cornelius Morley was born in 1923, the youngest of six children of a vicar. Educated at Marlborough and Cambridge after being told that he was not bright enough for the clergy, David was a wartime medical student but after graduation in 1947 was sent for national service in Singapore and Malaysia. Showing an interest in flying, his early visionary approach was noted by his instructor who discouraged him, saying that his mind was on higher things and "his landings were always two feet above where they were supposed to be".

In 1951 Morley moved to the north to work in Sunderland, where he met his future wife, Aileen Leyburn, then a ward sister, and in 1953 he moved to Newcastle to work with Professor James Spence and Donald Court. The former was the instigator of the first long-term study of children in England, the 100 families study, which examined the effect of the home and social circumstances on health and disease, a concept close to Morley's heart. His second mentor, Court, went on to be Professor of Child Health after Spence and in the 1970s redesigned and integrated child-health services following his seminal report, "Fit for the Future".

The route from Newcastle to the developing world later became well-worn, but Morley was the first to pursue it. In 1956 he took up a post that linked research with service, in Ilesha, Nigeria. Over the following five years his work laid out the pattern for the rest of his life and he is still remembered fondly there for his achievements. In Ilesha, Morley developed the interests that remained lifelong: measles, and its relationship with malnutrition, and growth monitoring. Following the example set by Spence in Newcastle, he carried out the first longitudinal study in Africa, of all the babies born in the village of Imesi. This led to the development (invention is a better word) of the "Road to health" chart – a growth curve showing the anticipated growth of a child under five. Each weight is marked on the curve and a fall-off – the first sign of malnutrition – is detected early. These charts were given to mothers to keep at home, a revolutionary notion at the time, but since copied all over the world. The latest WHO charts based on breast-fed babies are now part of the UK personal child-health record – an innovation Morley introduced more than 50 years ago.

After his return from Nigeria in 1961, Morley worked at the London School of Hygiene and moved to St Albans. The next important step came in 1965 with the establishment of Teaching Aids at Low Cost (Talc) – a name which became familiar all over the world, since this was a charity which sent out educational materials (slide sets, books and later, CD-roms) to centres where education was essential but teaching aids non-existent. Talc has gone on to be a global success story and there is hardly a hospital or clinic in the world that has not made use of its materials.

From then on, teaching became Morley's chief interest, and he went to the Institute of Child Health in 1964 to head the Tropical Child Health Unit and established, with Zef Ebrahim, the WHO/Unicef course for senior teachers of child health. This later became a master's course in mother and child health, and brought together the teaching about the health of the mother with that of the child – a key connection that is still made all too seldom. This course later re-built the Newcastle link by sending the students (who included nurses and nutritionists as well as doctors) north for a research project in a city which at that time had many third world connotations. Students went on to be influential figures in maternal and child health all over the world, and were visited by Morley and Ebrahim, and often included in outreach research or in the development of ideas designed in the kitchen at St Albans.

The years leading up to Morley's official retirement in 1989 were filled with ideas, experimentation and innovation in relation to intermediate technology, growth-monitoring and teaching. His first book, Paediatric Priorities in the Developing World, later to be the bible for health workers in rural settings, came out in 1973 and was distinctly different from the usual disease-centred book as it brought together prevention with cure and highlighted the importance of emotional as well as physical development in young children.

In 1978, the International Year of the Child, Morley developed, with Hugh Hawes of the Institute of Education, the Child to Child programme: children acting as health teachers for their younger siblings. This concept later came to be prominent through the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989. New ideas flowed freely: the double-ended spoon (for salt and sugar) to allow mothers to treat dehydration at home; the mid-arm circumference strip to measure malnutrition in a rural setting; the robust Talc weighing scale which could be used by parents; the technique of sterilising water by placing it in sunlight. And growth-monitoring was included as one of the core features of the Unicef child survival programme Gobi (growth monitoring, oral rehydration, breast feeding, immunisation).

Morley was awarded the James Spence medal of the British Paediatric Association (now Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health) in 1983 and the CBE in 1988, but was not a man to relish honours; his greatest pleasure was the success of a mother in feeding her child, or a health worker learning a new skill. His influence and philosophy of primary health care, health-professional education, community development, parent and child empowerment, and intermediate technology will last through the centuries.

Tony Waterston



David Cornelius Morley, paediatrician and health care activist: born Rothwell, Northamptonshire 15 June 1932; married 1952 Aileen Leyburn (two sons, one daughter); CBE 1989; died Weymouth, Dorset 2 July 2009.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
Andy Murray reaches the final of the Australian Open after beating Tomas Berdych in another impressive display, but the match was marred by ill feeling
sport
News
peopleKim Sears wears 'Parental Advisory– Explicit Content' at final
News
The guide, since withdrawn, used illustrations and text to help people understand the court process (Getty)
newsMinistry of Justice gets law 'terribly wrong' in its guide to courts
News
Bobbi Kristina Brown with her mother Whitney Houston in 2011
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Starting the day with a three-egg omelette could make people more charitable, according to new research
science
News
Top Gun actor Val Kilmer lost his small claims court battle in Van Nuys with the landlord of his Malibu mansion to get back his deposit after wallpapering over the kitchen cabinets
people
News
Comedian Ted Robbins collapsed on stage during a performance of Phoenix Nights Live at Manchester Arena (Rex)
people
News
The actress Geraldine McEwan was perhaps best known for playing Agatha Christie's detective, Miss Marple (Rex)
peopleShe won a Bafta in 1991 for her role in Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit
News
newsPatrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
News
Robert Fraser, aka Groovy Bob
peopleA new show honours Robert Fraser, one of the era's forgotten players
Life and Style
Torsten Sherwood's Noook is a simple construction toy for creating mini-architecture
tech
Sport
David Silva celebrates with Sergio Aguero after equalising against Chelsea
footballChelsea 1 Manchester City 1
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links