Dr Scragg's commitment to public health extended for the entire post-war colonial period and the health system he fostered doubled the average life expectancy of Papua New Guineans from 32 to 64
Dr Scragg’s funeral will be held on Friday 1 July at the Prospect International
Seventh-Day Adventist Church, 7 Ballville Street, Prospect, at 1.30 pm.
The funeral service will be webcast and you can link here to the livestream
NOOSA –Dr Roy Scragg, who died of cancer in the early hours of last Thursday at the age of 98, was a most remarkable man.
The richly honoured and credentialled Dr Scragg AM OBE, DUniv MD MPH MBBS, spent 27 years from 1947 to 1974 developing the health system in Papua New Guinea both as a pioneering administrator and later as a ground-breaking university professor.
He was born in Feilding, New Zealand, later moving to South Australia and obtaining his medical degrees from Adelaide University in 1947.
Soon after, Dr Scragg became the first young Australian doctor to join the PNG Department of Public Health after World War II.
In 1950, he added to his qualifications a Diploma in Tropical Medicine & Hygiene and, as an epidemiologist he undertook a ground-breaking study of why the population of New Ireland was in rapid decline.
He discovered that a long-established gonorrhoea had resulted in 54% of New Ireland women being childless.
The disease was eradicated by penicillin and in 1955 Adelaide University awarded him a Doctor of Medicine for work, recorded in his thesis, ‘Depopulation in New Ireland: A Study of Demography and Fertility’.
In the same year he became the founding editor of the Papua New Guinea Medical Journal.
By 1957, Dr Scragg had been appointed as director of the Public Health Department, where he played a central role in the establishment of the curative, preventive, research and educational divisions of the medical service.
His continuing involvement with medical research created a culture in which his professional staff, in addition to their operational duties, investigated and developed treatments for cretinism, neonatal tetanus, enteritis necroticans (pikbel) and other hazardous diseases.
The health system he fostered doubled the average life expectancy of Papua New Guineans from 32 in 1950 to 64.
As director of health he also served as a member of the pre-independence Legislative Council and House Assembly.
In this role he was a member of the committee that established the University of Papua New Guinea in 1966, including its medical faculty, in 1970.
And in 1971 he became the foundation professor of social and preventative medicine at the university and was awarded an OBE for his significant contribution to public health in PNG.
Dr Scragg returned to South Australia in 1974 and, until his retirement in 1982, was the founding coordinator of the South Australian Postgraduate Medical Education Association.
In 1982, he was awarded a fourth degree, Master of Public Health, for his thesis on the effects of health care interventions on village people in Bougainville
In 2015, Adelaide University honoured Dr Scragg’s distinguished career by awarding him an honorary doctorate.
In 2017, in recognition of his role as a founder, he received the distinguished fellow award of the Royal Australasian College of Medical Administrators.
Then last year he added to his earlier OBE by being appointed a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) to mark his significant contributions to medicine, epidemiology and medical associations.
Another of Dr Scraggs’ outstanding commitments was his 64 years as a member of the Rotary Club, which he joined in Port Moresby in 1958 and continued as member of the Rotary Club of Adelaide in 1974 until his death.
Dr. Scragg attributed a great deal of his success to his parents, both of whom encouraged him and his siblings to obtain graduate degrees.
He said his career had also been enhanced by a ‘serendipitous” choice to become a doctor in “epidemiologically virgin” Papua New Guinea.
He advised aspiring doctors to continuously harness their scientific curiosity and explore new theories for treatment.
In his experience, even ideas that present themselves out of thin air deserve thorough consideration and research.
Throughout his career, he regularly documented his scientific findings in more than 25 scholarly articles which were published in peer-reviewed medical publications, many of which are noted here.
Occasionally he would draw on his vast experience of post-war PNG to correct the record if he felt the health service he had worked so assiduously to stablish and grow was maligned.
Thus in 2011, when he felt Emeritus Professor Donald Denoon of the Australian National University had, not for the first time, detracted from the role of PNG doctors and medical assistants to enhance the role of kiaps in colonial public health matters, he wrote....
Denoon’s short paragraph on health continues his hypercritical attack on the public health service that pervades his historical review ‘Public Health in Papua New Guinea’ (Cambridge University Press, 1989).
His derogatory use of “stretcher bearers” denigrates both the army private with dedication but no medical training and medical assistants who came from the Australian Army and ANGAU, with medical experience and/or training.
The “quasi-military campaigns” were never “escorted by kiaps”. This comment implies improved safety for the medical assistant but this is far from the actual scene.
The Sinclair/Speer patrol into the Southern Highlands and other patrols into uncontrolled areas were joint ventures to determine the future administration and current health of the people.
Medical assistants were often required to accompany kiap patrols whenever they were available to provide care for the patrol carriers and provide village care, which in turn acted as a bait for village cooperation.
The disease eradication and control campaigns were not “over-ambitious” as through these Public Health Department endeavours the expectation life increased over 25 years from 32 to 52 years – no mean achievement.
His only criticism of kiaps is that “the Administration began to recruit indigenous kiaps precisely when the career itself was becoming obsolete” is a measure of the kiaps understanding of the future.
Dr Roy Scragg was always a man of clear view, strong mind and acute understanding of affairs. With his death this week, we have lost another giant of Papua New Guinea's emergence as an independent nation-state.
On behalf of PNG Attitude contributors and readers, condolences are extended to Dr Scragg's extended family:
Children & in-laws Robert and Barbara, Peter and Rosita, Alison and Grant, and Ian
Grandchildren Declan, Emily, Sophia, Dominique, Angela, Maree, Michael, Michael, Jackie, Melanie, Carla, Victoria,
Alexander, Amy, Juliet, Christian and Sean
Great-grandchildren Imogen, Ethan, April, Michele, Matteo, Harper, Damon, Darius and Rhianna