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Medical Information

The Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine

In 1998, a specific medical history project begun at the School entitled "Coping with Crisis", an investigation into disease and death on the Thai/Burma Railway 1942/45.

This was funded by a Wellcome History grant and led by Dr. Geoff Gill, Honorary Fellow and Senior Lecturer in Medicine, who has written the following up to date report. The project is investigating patterns of disease and medical treatment among British Ex Far East POWS (FEPOWS) who were involved with the construction of the Thai/Burma Railway.

This is closely linked to the School's clinical work over the last thirty years. During this period the School had been responsible for investigating more than, 2000 ex FEPOWS for tropical diseases. This project has used fascinating archival material, such as secret diaries, original drawings and medical records, in particular from the Imperial War Museum.

In addition, many ex FEPOWS treated in Liverpool have donated diaries and artefacts to the School over the years. Oral history interviews with surviving Doctors and medical orderlies who served on the Thai/Burma Railway are also being collected - recording for the future these unique experiences. The major causes of illness and death were malaria, dysentery, cholera and beri beri.

Their prevalence and mortality were sometimes staggering in some remote jungle camps. About two thirds of the prisoners died mostly as a result of cholera. Medical and nursing staff made heroic attempts to cope with the crisis in which they found themselves. They were supported by a secret system of smuggling money and supplies into camps and they also exhibited a remarkable degree of innovation in attempts to treat and prevent disease.

For example, fly killing initiatives reduced the spread of dysentery and drip sets were made from stethoscope tubing and sharpened bamboo sticks. The FEPOW history project is continuing in callaboration with Dr Power, preliminary results have been presented at a meeting at the Wellcome institute for the History of Medicine and many historical artefacts were displayed at the Schools exhibition in the Liverpool Museum.

A comprehensive oral history archive is also planned, to continue to record the total FEPOW experience, a project the School is uniquely to do.