Tropical Medicine in Sweden?

I had a strange sense of deja vu as I cycled back up the hill from the university yesterday. I had just finished my first test in Biostatistics, for which I was supervised by my neighbour who is a teacher at Örebro Mission School. I have been studying Biostatistics as an external subject through James Cook University in Townsville, Queensland. Some of the other subjects in this degree I have studied in block mode, as two week intensive courses while staying in Townsville. On a number of occasions I stayed with good friends who were at that time living in Townsville and were willing to put up with me for a month on one occasion, and a few weeks at other times. Craig and Michelle, my hosts those times, lived near the army base in Townsville, where Craig was a chaplain. Each day I would cycle from their house to the university, and even in the mornings I was all in a sweat by the time I got to my course, in the tropical warmth of North Queensland.

So why the deja vu? Perhaps that is the wrong expression. It was more that my memory of those other times was sparked by the act of cycling home, although here in Sweden the temperature is somewhat different, not to mention the geography, the vegetation, the air. I remember wondering back then in Queensland why I was studying Public Health and Tropical Medicine, putting myself through all the agony of assignments and exams for no obvious reason apart from interest. I had enrolled when we had returned from the Anastasis at the beginning of 2004, after two years living in the tropics and realising that despite our repeated trips to the developing world I still had no formal education in the health issues of poor nations. The degree had started as a certificate in refugee and disaster health, but had expanded as more subjects had caught my interest. But a few years down the track, working as a GP in a country town in Australia, I found myself wondering what was the relevance of such a study.

That question seems even more acute now, in the chilly autumn of Scandinavia. Public Health is relevant, I suppose, everywhere. But tropical medicine?? I find myself wondering if we will ever return to the tropics, and the very different health concerns of the developing world. Only time will tell. Right now Sierra Leone, Togo, The Gambia, India, The Pacific Islands, even Townsville, all seem very far away. Until I walked into the bank today to fix up my bank card and the lady who served me, remembering I was Australian from a previous visit we had made to the bank, mentioned that her daughter, who is travelling in Australia, had just arrived in Townsville, and “is it a good town?” she asked. I reassured her that it was a wonderful place, and that her adventurous girl would have a great time there, and I thought back to balmy October days this time last year when I was there and the rest of the family came up too, and we spent some days in the tropical north with the smell of sugar cane in the air…

Its a small world.


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