Nossal Institute for Global Health - Theses

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    Lessons learned: the Australian military and tropical medicine
    Quail, Geoffrey Grant ( 2013)
    Historically, prolonged battles were frequently lost and won because of the greater fitness of one of the combatant armies. This held true even in the twentieth century when illness was a major factor leading to the withdrawal from the Gallipoli Peninsula in the Great War and the near-defeat of the Allied armies due to malaria in the Pacific theatre during World War Two. Malaria emerged again a major problem in the Vietnam War. Many of the most crucial battles have taken place in tropical or subtropical locations with the result that participating troops succumbed to tropical diseases. As a result, it was imperative that a substantial amount of the scientific work to prevent and manage these diseases be done by military doctors. The benefit of their work extends well beyond the military community and has greatly improved health throughout the tropics and the wider world. Despite the expertise of the medical corps, serious health problems still occurred in most extended military campaigns until recent times. It is clear that medical lessons were not learnt from previous encounters, mainly in relation to prevention of disease by providing adequate sanitation, nutrition and care of participating soldiers and preparing to meet the threat of endemic diseases prevalent where troops were to be deployed. The Australian Army Medical Corps, founded in 1901, had the benefit of observing medical mistakes made by previous armies and in general has acquitted itself well. However, mistakes in this area leading to significant morbidity were still being made as recently as the year 2000 mainly in relation to malaria. For instance, lack of preparedness of doctors sent to New Guinea with the Australian force in the Great War, lack of prophylactic measures against malaria taken by the Allied force returning from the Middle East for deployment in New Guinea in World War Two, failure to perceive the threat from the emergence of drug resistant strains of malaria parasites in the 1960s and above all, the failure of military command to fully implement the recommendations of their medical advisors. Despite these shortcomings Australia has been served well by some exceptional military doctors who have led the world in their research particularly through the Land Headquarters Medical Research Unit initiated by Neil Hamilton Fairley and the Australian Malaria Institute by Robert Black. This study illuminates the need for the Australian Government and the Australian Defence Force to be cognizant of the past and appreciate the need for continuing army medical research so that the welfare of troops sent on deployment in the tropics is preserved and not seriously affected by familiar and emerging diseases.