Medics show skills in the field

AUSTRALIA’S first Victoria Cross recipient, Captain Neville Howse, was serving as a regimental medical officer during the Boer War when he rescued a seriously wounded trooper under fire.

His professional reputation established, Howes rose through the military medical ranks in World War I to major-general commanding medical services in France, and was later a federal minister.

Colonel “Weary” Dunlop also benefited professionally from his military service.

By the time he was captured by the Japanese in 1942, he had already seen active service at Tobruk in Libya and in Greece and Syria.

Dunlop wasn’t the only doctor to show great ingenuity and heroism while POW – Albert Coates was at least one other – but he was the one best known.

Dunlop used the experience to push medicine beyond the bounds of well-resourced clinical peacetime practice, but simultaneously developed his personal and professional reputation.

Weary Dunlop’s war service presented a different problem as an aspiring general surgeon, who often improvised vaccines and equipment from what was available in the POW camps, as opposed to being able to use well provisioned dispensaries.

His civilian counterparts had long qualified for their Royal Australian College of Surgeons’ fellowships when he and his military cohort were finally demobilised.

Dunlop’s pioneering experiences of what might be termed field expedient medicine was not considered advantageous to his career.

When Winston Churchill’s health deteriorated significantly in the early days of World War II, it was a decorated former World War I infantry regimental medical officer he appointed as his personal physician.

Lord Moran – Sir Charles Wilson, MC – spent the early war years with the Royal Fusiliers before commanding the British Stationary Hospital, Boulogne, France in 1917-18.

He used the opportunity to study the effects of depression on soldiers, writing two books, The Mind in War and The Anatomy of Courage.

Between the wars he lectured the British Army Staff College on the effects of combat experience on soldiers’ reactions and subsequent mental health.

Moran was concurrently president of the Royal College of Physicians when he assumed his role with Churchill, who long battled what might now be, in part at least, described as PTSD. A former soldier, Churchill long battled depressive illness, even in politics.

His was a classic case study, inspiring Moran to publish post-war his diaries of the treatment afforded Churchill.

The ADF’s Malaria Research Institute is regarded as a centre of medical excellence studying vectorborne diseases.

However, its conduct of recent clinical trials using ADF personnel raise serious doubts.

Given resources readily available to them, its deficiencies deserve close scrutiny.

Now it seems the ADF medical services have been offered to assist with experimental research into coronavirus vaccines proposed for quarantine facilities on Christmas Island.

While there are historical and service justifications for antimalarial research, it would seem a gross misuse of scarce ADF medical resources to conduct antiviral trials into diseases that seem well outside the ADF’s charter or experience.

Australia’s governments should not regard scarce ADF medical resources as its first line of emergency response or experimentation.

Save their expertise for the troops.


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