War Surgery and Medicine
VENEREAL disease is inevitable in any military force, whether a home or overseas. But sulphonamides, and later penicillin, in the Second World War proved so effective in the treatment of all forms of venereal disease that the problem was much less serious than in previous wars, and manpower wastage was reduced. Gonorrhoea and syphilis seldom necessitated invaliding to New Zealand, a striking contrast to conditions in the First World War.
In addition the incidence among troops has tended to decrease. In his medical history of 1 NZEF Carbery states that ‘approximately 3600 men per annum of the NZEF were infected and required treatment’, and that ‘at the end of 1917 there were 400 patients in the VD Section 3 NZ Gen Hosp Codford, with 200 convalescents attached’. The venereal disease rate in 1 NZEF was about 60 per 1000 per annum. More accurate figures recorded in the Australian medical history show the rate for the AIF overseas, 1915–18, to have been 71 per 1000 per annum, compared with 94 per 1000 per annum for the AIF in Australia during the same period.
In 2 NZEF overseas the rate was 47 per 1000 per annum for the years 1940 to 1945, while the rate for the Army in New Zealand was 22 in 1940, 31 in 1941, and 15 in 1942 (all per thousand per annum), compared with the Army rate in New Zealand of 34 in 1917.
Conclusions cannot be drawn with any certainty from comparisons of overseas forces as conditions vary so considerably. However, the troops in Egypt in the Second World War do not seem to have run the same risk of contracting syphilis from the local population. A record still available shows that from 7 February 1916 to 12 April 1916 there were 93 New Zealanders with fresh infections of syphilis admitted to 1 NZ Stationary Hospital, Moascar. Most were infected in Cairo, from which city the incidence was not nearly so high in the years 1940–45.