New Zealand Medical Services in Middle East and Italy
Malaria: The low-lying and boggy plains of Greece have long been notorious as centres of malarial infection. During the First World War British troops stationed in the hinterland of Salonika suffered severely from this disease, in spite of precautionary measures. The dangers involved in a campaign in Greece by troops from non-malarious countries were pointed out with great force by Colonel N. H. Fairley, AAMC, and Colonel J. S. K. Boyd, RAMC, in a report to General Wavell.
The lesson of the First World War was not forgotten on this occasion and the New Zealand Division, as well as the rest of Lustre Force, had made preparations to cope with the problem before its arrival in Greece. Up-to-date information on the subject, lectures, and training in malaria-control work had been given to medical units. Medical officers were charged with instructing all units in the essentials of malaria-control discipline and in the practical application of prophylactic measures. The Field Hygiene Section was fully alive to the problem and looked upon it as its main task. Infantry battalions were later issued with two-man mosquito-proof tents which proved excellent. All other troops were issued with bell-type mosquito nets which were unsuitable. Bush nets were not available.
As far as the New Zealand forces were concerned 4 Field Hygiene Section at once began anti-malaria measures, carrying out a careful survey of the battle areas. Contact was at once made with local medical practitioners and information obtained as to the local incidence of the disease. Even spleen surveys were carried out on children in these areas and the spleen rate in the villages was found page 103 to be 40–50 per cent. These surveys disclosed a relatively high incidence of malaria, higher than the figures previously available, and as a result the evacuation of children from army areas was recommended as a precautionary measure.
The Hygiene Section proceeded to deal with breeding grounds by drainage and oiling, and to arrange for unit malaria squads to be formed to deal more intensively with the problem. Advice was also given to combatant units on the relative safety of areas as far as malaria was concerned. The force itself contained a malaria officer who had organised forty Greek foremen, each with a gang of twenty-three labourers, to deal with the problem from an army level. Arrangements had been made to equip three of these gangs for the New Zealand Division.
(Fortunately, as far as this campaign was concerned, only three cases of malaria were reported as seasonal infection did not occur until May at the earliest, with the main incidence in July, August, and September. Training in malaria control was, however, valuable for the future.)
Intestinal Diseases: These were very prevalent in Greece, sanitary arrangements throughout the country being primitive except in the more modern part of Athens. The general poverty of the country outside Athens probably retarded the provision of modern hygienic conditions. Typhoid and paratyphoid fevers were more prevalent than in any other European country. Dysentery, both bacillary and amoebic, was widespread. Cholera had been absent for many years.
To minimise infection of the force by these diseases the Field Hygiene Section carried out a complete examination of the water supply in the different villages in the battle areas. Arrangements were made for the chlorination of water where necessary.
Typhus: Great epidemics had occurred in the Balkans at different times, including the First World War. Precautions were taken by the provision of disinfestors for all medical units.
Venereal Disease: Syphilis and gonorrhoea were very prevalent.
Tuberculosis: There was a high incidence of 3 per cent of pulmonary tuberculosis in Greece, but little glandular infection, possibly because of the custom of boiling the milk of goats and sheep.
Water Supply: The water generally throughout Greece was obtained from wells and was as a rule satisfactory. Chlorination of water in water carts was undertaken as required and chlorination tablets for individual use were also available; these were issued to units, but unfortunately, in many cases, not to the individual soldiers.
Sanitation: Generally, the civilian sanitary arrangements outside Athens were those of the cesspool and the midden. The Army used deep-trench and bored-hole latrines.page 104