On April 10, 1943, Science News Letter published a great article on protecting the United States against wartime tuberculosis. Why great? Because of this quote:
“Tuberculosis sanatoria are giving more than 22,000,000 patient days of treatment yearly; tuberculosis divisions of hospitals give about 6,000,000. These figures, added to the man-days required to take care of patients by doctors, nurses, cooks and janitors, make a grand total of over 40,000,000 man,days yearly.”
This is enough time to build 160 destroyers, or 940 flying fortresses, or 8,000 combat planes, or 16,000 light tanks, or 20,000 howitzers, or 34,000 jeeps, or 550,000 30-caliber machine guns. On the financial side, the cost is equally staggering. The cost of tuberculosis among veterans of the last war alone, before X-rays were used to detect tuberculosis in apparently healthy men and to prevent their being inducted into the Army, has passed the billion dollar mark.
The article advocates testing for TB by directly relating man-hours lost to the war effort. In this way the article merges public health with national security interests. That is, TB weakens the ability of the United States to wage war. To fight TB is to contribute to national security.
The combination of public health and national security fascinates me. It relates two, often considered disparate, topics: conflict and health. In most of recent history the concept of health professionals contributing to national security or military personnel promoting global health were largely unaddressed. But, as time passes and diseases exploit worldwide connectivity, the two fields will become more interdependent and intertwined.
Stafford, Jane. 1943. “Fighting War Plague.” The Science News-Letter 43(15): 230-231.
Christopher R. Albon is a political science Ph.D. specializing in armed conflict, public health, human security, and health diplomacy.