The Field of Tropical Medicine and Research in the Field: Perfectionism at the End of the Line

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  • Department of Tropical Public Health, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts 02115

The commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Gorgas Memorial Laboratory and the inauguration of the Soper Lectureship honor two American pioneers in the field of tropical medicine, pioneers whose laboratory was the field. Their sterling contributions to the welfare of man derived from work at the critical interface between man and his disease-bearing vectors—the end of the line.

William Crawford Gorgas at the beginning of this century attacked Aedes and Anopheles in Havana and in Panama; urban yellow fever disappeared and the prevalence of malaria was dramatically reduced. Two decades later Fred Soper, just out of a medical internship, was assigned under Rockefeller Foundation auspices to the hookworm campaign in Brazil. His preparation for the assignment included attendance at one of Gorgas' last public lectures. Hookworm occupied Soper's efforts for 6 years. Events have since demonstrated that the defecatory habits of impoverished, illiterate man are difficult to modify in the absence of concurrent social development.