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War Surgery and Medicine

Pacific Experience

Pacific Experience

In Fiji in 1941 and 1942 ophthalmic work was carried out under difficulties. Little suitable equipment was available, and there was at the time no civilian ophthalmologist practising in Suva, so that there was no one attached to the Memorial Hospital to whom cases might have been referred. The hospital did, however, lend Major L. S. Talbot a box of ophthalmic lenses and did all it could to help. It was fortunate that the period of occupation by the New Zealand forces did not include combat conditions, as it would have been difficult to give efficient ocular operative treatment for lack of surgical instruments. When the Tamavua military hospital was built in the middle of 1941 an adequate Eye and ENT examination room was provided in it, enabling refractions to be done quickly and conveniently, and the department was kept very busy as a number of civilians attended as out-patients.

Tropical eye conditions were very uncommon, as also proved to be the case in New Caledonia and the Solomon Islands. There was little trouble from heterophoria or from functional asthenopia. An idea that ‘glare’ in a tropical country would need to be counteracted by the wearing of tinted glasses was at first widespread among the troops. As a matter of fact glare was no more a problem in Fiji than in New Zealand. The country, at least on the Suva side, is green and the sky often cloudy, as would be expected with an annual rainfall of from 75 to 150 inches. The idea died out with persuasion and explanation. (In the Air Force special conditions are met with in which such lenses are necessary.) Little conjunctival infection occurred, and it responded well to the treatments available in the pre-penicillin era.

Though trachoma is endemic in Fiji among both Indians and Fijians, no cases of trachoma were found in New Zealand troops. It appeared that the good standard of personal cleanliness which obtained among the troops rendered infection unlikely, even when New Zealand and Fijian soldiers were training in fairly close contact.