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War Surgery and Medicine



There has always been a tendency among medical practitioners, when all other therapeutic measures have proved unavailing, to suggest for the asthmatic a change of climate. That this attitude had contributed to the appearance of large numbers of known asthmatics in the Middle East was suggested by the fact that many of the sufferers reported that they had been assured that their asthma would not trouble them in Egypt. Early experience soon proved, however, that asthma tended to flare up in the Middle East, and recommendations were made to the medical authorities in New Zealand to exclude men with a history of asthma, mild or otherwise, from overseas drafts. Many asthmatics had to be boarded for return to New Zealand soon after arrival in Egypt. By March 1943, 146 asthmatics (3½ per cent of the total invalided) had been evacuated to New Zealand. The total number invalided during the war was 239.

Originally the policy was that every asthmatic should be sent home, since there was evidence of an increased tendency to attacks in Egypt even in asthmatics whose attacks were previously mild or infrequent. Later, as shipping space became restricted, a few of the milder cases were retained for base duties.

Asthma seldom entailed admission to hospital (only 106 cases from 1941 to 1945), though in January 1943 there were 15 cases in hospital, all from the recently arrived 8th Reinforcements. Eight of these were immediately placed on the New Zealand Roll. Some of these were definite, known asthmatics before enlistment. Others had recrudescences of asthma which had been for many years quiescent in New Zealand. Some known asthmatics were free of attacks and were able to give good service in the field. Experience showed, in general, that asthmatics and persons of allergic heredity did not react favourably to conditions in Egypt.

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During the seven months from August 1942 to February 1943, 37 cases of asthma in 2 NZEF were admitted to hospital for treatment. Of these, 19 had given no field service at all and only 3 were graded fit for full duties. The Consultant Physician expressed the view that, economically, it was questionable whether it was a wise policy to keep asthmatics in the Middle East, no matter how mild their attacks might at first appear to be. Recurring asthma bred the asthmatic ‘habit’ and men might become chronic asthmatics with a long-term pensionable disability.