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Sir Neil Hamilton Fairley (1891 – 1966)

Neil Hamilton Fairley was an Australian physician who was influential in implementing procedures that saved thousands of allied lives from malaria and other diseases during the Second World War. After graduating from the University of Melbourne he joined the Australian Army Medical Corps, serving his residency at the Royal Melbourne Hospital where he investigated an epidemic of cerebral meningitis.

In 1916 Fairley was posted to the Middle East. Here, whilst based in Egypt and Palestine, Fairley investigated and published papers on scistosomiasis, dysentery, typhus and malaria. During the interwar period Fairley worked for two years at the Lister Institute in London and qualified as a member of the Royal College of Physicians. He also gained a Diploma of Public Health from the University of Cambridge.

In 1920 Fairley briefly returned to Australia to work at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research. In less than a year he had resigned from this post and accepted a five year appointment in Bombay. Here his initial role was as Tata Professor of Clinical Tropical Medicine, and he later became the Medical Research Officer of the Bombay Bacteriological Laboratory and honorary consulting physician at two of the city's leading hospitals. In 1929 Fairley returned to London, where he worked in private practice and as a lecturer at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Fairley returned to the Australian Army as consulting physician during the Second World War, with therank of Colonel. From the beginning of the war in the Far East and the Pacific, dysentery and malaria were a major concern although at this time most of the troops had a poor understanding of anti-malarial precautions. Fairley ensured that drugs were delivered to the troops and encouraged US and UK authorities to increase production of anti-malarial drugs. In 1943 he persuaded the Australian army to establish a medial research centre in Cairns, where he investigated malarial pathogenesis and chemoprophylaxis using human volunteers. Between 1943 and 1945 hundreds of volunteers were infected, and Fairley demonstrated the effectiveness of atebrin as a causal prophylactic for vivax malaria and cure for falciparum malaria.

As adirect result of this research procedures were implimented to ensure that troops received the correct dose of drugs on a regular basis andwere educated in methods of malaria prevention. Malaria rates fell dramatically as a consequence.

After the war Fairley returned to London where he became a consulting physician to the Hospital for Tropical Diseases and Wellcome Professor of Tropical Medicine at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Survived by his wife and their two sons, and by the son of his first marriage, Fairley died on 19 April 1966.


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