Lives of the fellows

Stanley Cuthbert Wigley

b.14 January 1917 d.3 June 2000
MB MB Melbourne(1944) MRCP(1950) FRCP(1971)

Stanley Wigley was for fifteen years a specialist tuberculosis medical officer in Papua New Guinea, almost until it was granted independence in 1975. He was the last of the great colonial doctors in that country.

Stanley Wigley was born in Melbourne, the son of Herbert Wigley, an engineer, and his wife Elizabeth. He matriculated at University High School and graduated with an exhibition in medicine and the Levi and Jamieson prizes. He interned at the Royal Melbourne Hospital and served in the AAMC from 1945 to 1946 where he worked with Harry Wunderly, who became Commonwealth director of tuberculosis in 1948.

In 1948 Wigley gained a Wunderly scholarship designed to train young Australian physicians in tuberculosis and thoracic medicine. To this end Wigley worked in London at the Brompton Hospital and at Hammersmith for two years, gaining his membership of the College in 1950.

On his return to Melbourne Wigley worked at the central tuberculosis clinic and as medical superintendent at the Greenvale Sanatorium.

In 1956 he spent three months in Papua New Guinea, then administered by Australia, selecting patients for a tuberculosis surgical programme to be carried out by Melbourne-based thoracic surgeon, C J Officer Brown. Attracted by the magnitude of the tuberculosis problem, he accepted an appointment as specialist medical officer with responsibility for all aspects of tuberculosis control.

Wigley's control programme encompassed BCG vaccination on a grand scale, using locally-trained Melanesian health workers and intensive case-finding based mainly on symptoms and sputum smears. He was a pioneer of supervised multi-drug chemotherapy. He gained the co-operation of the government as well as the missionary medical and hospital services, thus raising awareness of the extent of tuberculosis throughout the whole of Papua New Guinea. Visits by thoracic surgical units from Australia became an integral part of the treatment programme.

Wigley traced the introduction of tuberculosis to missionaries and other Europeans who visited coastal regions of Papua in the last decades of the 19th century. What may have remained a mild endemic disease in coastal regions became a widespread epidemic disease over most of Papua and New Guinea following massive internal migration in a war-torn primitive society following the Japanese invasion during the Second World War.

The programme was highly successful due to the single-minded determination of Wigley and his ability to plan carefully and supervise closely all aspects of tuberculosis control even in the remote Highlands where he used aircraft to visit regional units on a regular basis.

The point prevalence of tuberculosis reached a peak of 4 per cent of the adult population in some areas in 1960, falling to 0.1 per cent in 1970.

Wigley published many papers on tuberculosis, leprosy, lung cancer and pneumonia and presented the results of his treatment programmes at Australian tuberculosis conferences. He was a consultant to the South Pacific Commission and was twice a WHO travelling fellow, to South East Asia (1961) and Africa (1969).

He returned to Australia in 1973 confident that his successor, a Melanesian selected and trained by Wigley, would continue the programme he had put in place.

He continued working in the field of tuberculosis in Sydney hospitals and as a lecturer in tuberculosis at the School of Public Health at the University of Sydney until his retirement in 1991.

A J Proust

(Volume XI, page 620)

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