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War Surgery and Medicine

Malaria in Syria

Malaria in Syria

Before the onset of the malaria season in 1942 the Division moved up into Syria, with the base troops remaining in Egypt.

Malaria was endemic in Syria, with high spleen rates among the inhabitants of many villages. With many rivers and numerous swamps lying between the Lebanon and Ante-Lebanon ranges, and especially with the melting snows and swollen rivers following the severe winter, the stage was set for a high incidence of malaria page 522 among New Zealand troops unless energetic measures were taken to combat the disease. To meet the situation a complete anti-malaria organisation was set up within the Division.

Equipment on the approved scale for personal protection was available, and mosquito nets, veils, gloves, anti-mosquito cream, sprays and Flysol were issued to all units. An officer of the New Zealand Medical Corps was placed in charge of divisional malaria control and attended a course at No. 2 Malaria Field Laboratory, Beirut. Two Anti-Malaria Control Units of 1 officer, 1 sergeant, and 5 other ranks were formed within the Division, and members from each unit also attended the Malaria Field Laboratory for training. Ten anti-malaria sections, with a civilian staff of 1 foreman and 23 labourers, worked under the supervision of, first, 4 Field Hygiene Section, and, later, of 4 and 6 NZ AMCUs at Baalbek and Aleppo respectively. They drained swamps and sprayed potential mosquito-breeding grounds. In addition unit squads, consisting of an NCO and three men, worked under the control of each RMO.

As a result of these measures malaria in the New Zealand Division was kept within moderate limits (5 per 1000), although the troops did not remain in Syria during the height of the malaria season.

While the Division was in Syria from March to July 1942 there were 261 cases of malaria, almost equalling the total (323) for all 2 NZEF in Egypt in the 1942 season. However, of this total nearly half (127) was provided by two battalions alone (22 and 24 Battalions), suggesting that an improvement in malaria control in these units would have resulted in remarkably low figures for the nature of the area. The high incidence in these two battalions may have been due to inadequate precautions against mosquitoes wind-borne from over the Turkish border, where no malaria control was exercised.1

There were 72 relapses in these Syrian cases, giving a relapse rate of 27.5 per cent, while there were 52 relapses in a group of 244 cases from Egypt from July 1941 to March 1943, giving a relapse rate of 21.3 per cent. (These figures are only approximate, as some men had one and some two or more relapses.) Only 24 out of 505 cases were malignant tertian.

1 Some of the cases from 24 Battalion arose among men who were guarding a tunnel and who neglected to observe the usual after-dusk precautions in the semi-darkness of the tunnel during the day, when the mosquitoes were still active.