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War Surgery and Medicine

Trachoma Scare in Fiji

Trachoma Scare in Fiji

In January 1945 an alarming message was received by the Director-General of Medical Services to the effect that 40 per cent of the New Zealanders serving with the Fiji Defence Force were suffering from an eye disease diagnosed as early trachoma by medical officers and the local ophthalmologist. Lieutenant-Colonel W. J. Hope-Robertson page 442 and Major L. S. Talbot, two ophthalmologists, were immediately sent to Fiji to investigate. Trachoma is thought to be a virus disease which can be spread where there is dirt, either personal or environmental. It is difficult to diagnose in its early stages. The ophthalmologists examined 102 New Zealanders and 13 other white servicemen, most of whom had previously been diagnosed as trachoma cases, but in no case did they find a trachomatous condition. A papillary hypertrophic condition only was seen in some. Of 30 Fijian servicemen examined there were only four with a slitlamp appearance of the cornea that suggested the existence of a previous pannus. There was no evidence of present or previous trachoma in 30 white residents of long standing.

The ophthalmologists were of the opinion that trachoma did exist among the native population of Fiji, but that white troops could continue to serve there without danger to their eyes if reasonable precautions against infection were taken. They recommended that an eye specialist be provided where troops were quartered in areas where there was endemic eye disease of a contagious or infectious nature. They made further recommendations regarding quartering and messing of white troops in these areas— facilities for personal cleanliness in the way of hot and cold water showers; cleanliness of clothing, with towels and handkerchiefs washed in boiling water; cooking of food for Europeans by Europeans; native servants to be employed as sparingly as practicable, and only after a careful medical examination; and the desirability of white and native troops not messing together, unless for military reasons it could not be avoided.