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"Diseases on Offer"
 
Life for those living on the jebel was extremely tough. The indigenous jebalis lived both in caves and also in their round shelters of stone and stick  that they built as near to established water supplies as possible. A smoky poorly ventilated cave which you share with your livestock and squadrons of biting insects is both unpleasant and conducive to the spread of communicable disease.  In addition to the disagreeable interventions that SOAF dispensed from the air there were on hand various endemic diseases to add their miseries.
The variety of "diseases on offer" can broadly be defined into bacterial, viral and parasitic. The chances of being afflicted depended on your current location and accommodation, how well prepared you were and what preventative measures you had or had not taken.
  • Gastroenteritis and diarrhoea
  • Malaria
  • Mumps
  • Trachoma
  • Shigellosis
  • Gonorrhoea
  • Brucellosis
  • Syphilis
  • Hepatitis B
  • Tuberculosis
  • Typhoid
  • Leprosy
   
  • Poliomyelits
  • Rubella
   
  • Leismaniasis
  • Toxoplasmosis
   
  • Filariasis
   
  • Hookworm
  • Giardia
  • Entamoeba
   
  • Schistosomiasis
   
This list is taken from an article in The American Journal of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine by Scrimgeour et al in 1999    
There were an awful lot of organisms snuffling around wishing harm to all and sundry. No soldier functions well with trachoma at the top, a malarious spleen in the middle and gastroenteritis at the far end.
It is well to remember that at the second Battle of El Alamein 20% of the German Forces were disabled by illness. No respecter of rank, infectious hepatitis struck down Erwin Rommel and he had to leave Africa to recuperate in Italy.
The answer to all this is simple. FSTs whilst they might be a little glamourous and reassuring come very much second to the distinctly unglamorous good sanitation and hygiene practices. Neglect of such means that commanders face the prospect of sickly troops who do not function efficiently and require huge medical resources for their care.
A question popped up on one of the Facebook groups raising the issue of "post tour"  medical screening for those who had been in Dhofar. The webmaster was not aware of any systematic surveillance but did know that, not surprisingly, any one who was symptomatic was investigated. He is aware of a member of an FST who in later life developed bladder cancer but does not know if that was associated with schistosomiasis.
In addition to the infective diseases members of the forces were also subject to environmental hazards in the form of UV light now known to contribute to solar keratoses and melanoma.
 
"S"

Swimming at Salalah? That was only for the 3 days of R&R that they gave us. If we were very lucky we would be at the base at Mughsayl for the weekend but that did not happen very often. We'd go to the fresh water hole for a swim, but swimmiming in the sea was regarded as too dangerous.
"T"

"Back in the day the test was a urine test. You had to start peeing into the toilet and just when you thought you were about to finish you had to catch the last little bit in a jar. The schistosomes lived in the walls of the bladder and were squeezed out during the final contractions. Perhaps you guys did it but have forgotten. Surely they tested you for worms at least? Oh the worms I have seen.........."

"J"

 

"We were never tested for the bug. The only thing we had to do when we got back to the UK was to keep taking the Paludrine tablets for 2 weeks, and in that time you could be tested."

"T"

Oh Yes HTD. 6months of looking at sh*t, collecting sh*t, measuring sh*t and comparing the colour of sh*t,. Pouring sh*t into jars and tiny bottles. Even fishing through sh*t to pick out the Tapeworm pieces that we had to lay out on glass until we found the head. Happy days and Christmas with the leprosy patients.
"T"

After I left Dhofar in 1976 I went to London to study Tropical Medicine (a bit late you might think) We learned about and treated people with Bilharzia/Shistosomiasis. Since then I have read that this waterbourne disease, carried by snails is endemic in Dhofar [Salalah, Tarqa, Sudh] and commonly contracted by bathing in freshwater ponds.
🤒 It was first acknowledged in the late 1970's but have no idea how much earlier water had been infected there. I wonder if returning servicemen were tested for this infection? 

Webmaster

 

Interesting comment. When I was a medical student we spent three months at the Hospital for Tropical Diseases at St Pancras Hospital and it was always regarded as far too little. No I don't think people were routinely tested post-tour unless perhaps there was a whole RE troop and an enthusiastic MO. I personally was tested for amoebiasis as I was symptomatic. I have a page on the website entitled "Diseases on Offer" which is actually quite alarming and I do draw attention to the importance of sanitation. I seem to recall a group of BATT who had be holed up in a cave when the insurgents had them cornered and many of them went down with hepatitis. Incidentally Oman is now said to be free of malaria. Things may change as they have done in the uK where malaria was once common.