Senior Medical Officer

Doctor on Call - Chad

Lt Col Anthony Corcoran - SMO 98 Infantry Battalion

Was the trip what you expected?

Yes. I’ve served in Liberia and this was a similar experience in terms of the potential hazards and risks to be faced from a medical point of view. The lessons we learnt in Liberia have been applied here and our approach can best be summed up by the cliché ‘prevention is better than cure.’ The preventative measures that were taken before coming out here and the policies adopted during the trip kept illness levels low.

What were those measures?

Before deploying to Chad there were a number of important elements to our preparations. Firstly, everyone was subject to comprehensive medicals before selection to ensure that everyone who was travelling was in good health to begin with. Then the vaccination programme was administered and our personnel began taking their malaria prophylaxis. Another key aspect was the medical talks that were given to the troops to prepare them for the trip by making them aware of the harsh environment into which they were deploying in terms of climate, conditions and diseases.
After deployment our approach to keeping our troops healthy was through three key policies that we implemented at all levels: washing hands thoroughly before all meals; only eating food prepared in camp or from pack rations while out on patrol; and ensuring that clean drinking water was available to everyone at all times. These three points helped to a great extent in keeping illness rates at a minimum.

Do you and your medical team take great pride in the low illness rates and the fact that there was no major outbreak since you have been out here?

To an extent we have a professional pride in that, of course, but I would just as soon describe our feeling as one of relief. Chad is one of those places with the potential for things to get out of control very quickly, through no fault of anyone; that’s the nature of this environment. In my opinion the whole battalion can take pride in the low illness rates. A thing you’ll notice in a place like this is that people tend to pay more attention to their health. And the opposite applies: in more benign environments people are more relaxed regarding health matters. We found that out here, for example, if a guy cuts his hand he’ll come to us for treatment or if someone has a sore throat they’ll come and get it checked out, which is ideal for us as it goes back to what I said at the outset, prevention is better than cure and it may stop a minor problem turning into a major problem. A lot of the time we, the doctors, hadn’t a lot to do, which is always a good sign: everyone likes to see the medics, MPs and Padre with little to do. 

How did you fare for medical supplies during the trip?

Our predecessors in 97 Inf Bn left us well stocked to begin with, which was a great help. Then when we were told of the date for our first re-supply we worked on the assumption that it might also be our last so we made sure to get out everything we thought we would need. For example, the Larium and Primaquine that our personnel will be taking when they go home, came out on that initial re-supply in November 2008.

When I spoke to the Padre he said he thought the fact that Chad was a ‘dry’ trip was a success, would you agree?

Definitely. On a personal and professional level I am very glad this was an alcohol-free trip. As well as reducing cases of dehydration it also cuts down on cases of ‘slips, trips, and falls’. We had very few accidents on this trip and I would put a lot of that down to the ‘dry’ nature of the trip by cutting out simple things like someone getting up in the middle of the night to go to the toilet and slipping down a couple of steps and injuring himself.
Also, in my opinion this not an environment suitable for carrying out difficult tasks while nursing a hangover. Overall I think it has led to a general increase in the levels of health and fitness. On a personal level, I haven’t felt fitter and I’ve recorded my best IT results ever while out here.

I believe you spent a good bit of time on patrol, was that the case?

Yeah. There were two doctors with the battalion and every long-range patrol was accompanied by a doctor and two medics, so we each went on half the patrols. The short patrols had a single medic with them. It was comforting to the lads on patrol knowing there was access to medical help in an emergency and on occasions it helped operationally. For instance, on one patrol a soldier got a very nasty cut on the back of his head and I was able to stitch the wound, with the result that the patrol was only delayed for 20 minutes rather than the commander having to abort the patrol and return to camp to get his soldier treated or call for a medevac.

In a few words can you sum up your time in Chad?

I really enjoyed the trip and thought it struck a good balance between time in camp and out on patrol. Also, I found the villages fascinating and I’d imagine they are exactly the same as traditional African villages have been for centuries. 

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