In all of the ADF’s major conflicts since the First World War, malaria has been a significant and, at times, the main cause of casualties. Malaria has severely impacted the Australian Army’s combat operations on three occasions: Palestine, 1918; New Guinea, 1943 and Vietnam, 1968.
Malaria is one of the few infectious diseases that can quickly fill hospital beds with sick soldiers when a military unit is unable to prevent infection. During the Vietnam War, more than one per cent of infantry soldiers were hospitalised each day from malaria infection during an epidemic in 1968. In more recent times, operations in Timor-Leste 1999-2001 were impacted when nearly 400 ADF members became infected with malaria related to their deployment.
Preventative medications remain the basis of all malaria prevention plans which requires not only a knowledge of the regional malaria patterns, but a continuously renewed supply of effective medications for use by ADF members. Although an effective drug combination was quickly developed after the 1968 epidemic, the malaria parasite can evolve and drugs that worked previously often fail during the next war. The risk of malaria varies greatly depending on whether an ADF member is in Vanuatu (low risk), Papua New Guinea (high risk), Timor-Leste (high risk) or peace-keeping operations in Africa (very high risk).
During all four instances where combat operations were severely impaired due to malaria an Australian military malaria research group (operating under various names) was called on to determine the source of the problem and come up with a militarily-relevant solution. Currently known as the Australian Army Malaria Institute (AMI) located on Gallipoli Barracks since 1996, AMI’s mission is to prevent mission failure during tropical deployments of the ADF due to infectious diseases that are spread by insects, such as malaria and dengue.
The ADF’s recent experiences with malaria are detailed in the article Malaria notifications in the ADF 1998-2007.