ARMED FORCES MEDICAL RESEARCH – JOURNEY DOWN MEMORY LANE
Medical Research in the Armed Forces is dedicated towards making the soldier fit in all respects through preventive, curative and rehabilitative services in order to have a healthy force. The biggest conglomeration of military medical experts of the three Services where they interact and integrate their efforts under one roof with an aim to further research and create a template for futuristic planning, is the Armed Forces Medical Research Committee Meeting which is held once every year at Armed Forces Medical College, Pune .
The journey to this present day format of Armed Forces Medical Conference and research has been daunting and demanding. The earliest seeds of research in the Armed Forces in India had been sown in the form of circulation of medical pamphlets on prevention of infectious diseases and basic first aid in the Bengal Medical Services way back in 1760s. The early 1900’s saw the formation of Indian Hospital Corps and Charter of the IHC which carried a brief mention of the need to update knowledge and skill through training and research at all the centres. World War II brought about radical changes in the structure and function of Medical Services across all Armed Forces.
In 1945 Medical and EME officers were sent to England for training. A team of experts from Roehampton in London also visited the Research Center at Poona. In June that year the center moved to Kirkee and a year and half later to Lahore as most of the materials used in the manufacture came from Punjab and Kashmir. After Partition, though the center remained in Pakistan, most of the trained personnel opted for service in India. The center was reopened in Poona in February 1948 with a core of experienced men and others who had returned from England.
Apart from organized research undertaken by officers of the AMC, many of them continued in the tradition of the IMS by working on projects independently. Some made minor alterations to existing imported machinery to adapt it for use in India; others developed special techniques in treatment or suggested reforms in administration. Nutrition in the armed forces as well as the design for clothing received attention and steps at improving both were taken. AMC officer accompanied mountaineering expeditions, notably to Kanchenjunga in 1978 and Kamet in 1979. Thus, the urge for new discoveries and selfless work for the benefit of mankind continued in the military medical service.
The responsibility for research in military medicine was bestowed on the DGAFMS. Under his chairmanship a Research Advisory Committee, as per guidelines recommended by Dr BC Roy committee was set up to coordinate and consolidate research activities in the Armed Forces. The committee members included the Scientific Advisor to the Minister of Defence, prominent civilian research workers and the senior staff of the Armed Forces Medical College, Poona. The Director (Research and Hygiene) was appointed as the Secretary. In 1963, it was reorganized into the Armed Forces Medical Research Committee. This committee met once a year at Poona. It was again reorganized in 1973 to include eminent civilians as permanent members. All proposals for research projects were discussed by the committee and a close watch was kept on the progress of those projects selected for official sponsorship. Apart from work conducted at the AFMC, certain projects were also undertaken under the supervision of the Director Medical Research at venues at selected military hospitals; the Institute of Naval Medicine; the Institute of Aviation Medicine; the Defence Institute of Physiology; and the Institute of Nuclear Medicine and Allied Sciences.
Initially, more by accident than by design, Poona emerged as the center of medical research for the armed forces. Teams organized during the different wars to study various causes of sickness in the army were later absorbed into the Central Military Pathology Laboratory. This laboratory formed part of the original establishment of the AFMC, along with the Central Army School of Radiology and Army Blood Transfusion Centre. Over the years more specialized centers both for treatment and for research were added. These centers included the Paraplegic and Spinal Surgery Centre at the MH, Kirkee, the Cardio-Thoracic Surgery Centre at the MH(CTC), Poona and the Malignant Diseases Treatment Centre. Located at Command Hospital, Southern Command (SC), were the Plastic Surgery Centre, the Neurosurgery Centre, the Urology Centre and the Paediatric Surgery Centre. The Institute of Aviation medicine was set up at Bangalore and carried out pioneering work in that field. Also, the Institute of Naval Medicine was established at Bombay.
Thus, with every passing year, the horizon of Medical Research in the Armed Forces is expanding by leaps and bounds. The Armed Forces Medical Research Committee Meeting, held every year in the month of February, witnesses the progresses and newer dimensions of the research in Armed Forces.