What is tropical medicine?

A branch of medicine that deals with the study of diseases which are more unique, wide spread and have proven to be difficult to control in tropical and sub-tropical regions is called Tropical medicine. Diseases like malaria, Ebola and Hookworm infections were considered as tropical diseases. Improvements in diet, sanitation, housing and personal hygiene is observed to have controlled or eliminated many of these tropical diseases. Patrick Manson, a British parasitologist was the father of Tropical medicine. He was the founder of London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

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Patrick Manson was born on October 3rd 1844 at Oldmeldrum, a small town near Aberdeen, Scotland. His father John Manson was a manager of the local branch of British Linen Bank and his mother Elizabeth Livingstone Blaikie was a distant relative of David Livingstone who was a famous Christian- missionary explorer. Patrick Manson had one elder brother, one younger brother and four younger sisters. At the age of 5, he showed an excellent memory of remembering church sermons. He had a great passion in natural history, shooting, fishing, mechanics and carpentry in his childhood. Patrick Manson went to Gymnasium school in Aberdeen and later he continued his schooling at West End Academy. In the year 1859, he did apprenticeship as ironsmith under Blaike brothers, who were ironmasters. However, he had to discontinue since he was attacked by a type of tuberculosis (Pot’s disease of the spine). He entered the University of Aberdeen in the year 1860 and completed his medicine course by 1865. But by then he was only 19 years old and was considered underage for graduation, therefore he visited hospitals, medical schools and museums in London for some time. Finally when he was of appropriate age he formally graduated in October 1865 and was appointed as medical officer at Durham Lunatic Asylum. He worked at that asylum for about seven months. For the purpose of his thesis he performed 17 postmortem dissections on patients with psychiatric illness. In the year 1866 he received the degrees of Doctor of medicine, Doctor of Law and master of surgery.

David Manson who was the elder brother of Patrick Manson worked in medical service in Shanghai. David Manson was the inspiration behind Patrick Manson to join as medical officer in Customs Service of Formosa. He started his research work on tropical medicine while he was in Formosa (which is now called as Taiwan). His duty was to inspect the ships docked at the port and also to check their crew. He was exposed to a wide variety of tropical diseases while he attended Chinese patients in local missionary hospital. A combination of clinical skill, hand lens and good record work were his only research tool. After few years in Formosa he went to Amoy, on coastline of china. He worked there another 13 years.

He was the first person to discover that an insect can be a host to a developing parasite that is a cause of human disease. He carried out research work on filaria, a worm that causes elephantiasis. He spent most of his time in searching for filaria in the blood taken from the patients. Then he started analyzing the life cycle of filaria and discovered that the worms were active in the patient during the night and were absent during the day.

After his research work on filaria he came to a conclusion that the mosquito was the intermediate host of the filarial parasite. This discovery directly gave rise to mosquito-malarial theory. This theory suggests that mosquito is the carrier of agent that causes malaria. Ronald Ross, who approached Manson in London, proved this theory by describing the life cycle of malarial parasite inside a female mosquito.

Manson worked in Hong Kong from 1883 to 1889. During this period he founded Hong College of Medicine for Chinese students. This college had become the University of Hong Kong in the year 1911. In the year 1885 Manson had imported cows from his native Scotland to Hong Kong and established a dairy farm in Pok Fu Lam.

After earning considerable wealth through medical practice in South East Asia for 23 years, Manson moved back to London in 1889. He was qualified a member of Royal College of Physicians in the year 1890. In the year 1892 he became a physician at Seamen’s Hospital Society. In the same year he was appointed as lecturer for tropical diseases in St George’s Hospital. He was assigned as chief medical officer to the colonial office in July 1897. In the year 1912, Manson retired from the colonial office.

In the year 1876 Manson got married to Henrietta Isabella Thurbun. He had one daughter and three sons. His daughter married Philip Henry Bahr, who was Manson’s student at the London School of Tropical Medicine.

The Manson’s medal is presented by the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine once in every three years. Manson’s grandson, Dr. (Philip Edmund) Clinton Manson-Bahr was awarded this medal in the year 1995 for his work in tropical medicine.

Patrick Manson suffered with gout, during his service in China. His condition got worst with the age and he passed away on 9th of April, 1922.


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