Physio goes to Morocco

New Zealand Red Cross' delegate programme formally began in October 1960 when we sent Barbara Tomlinson, a physiotherapist, to Morocco.

In late 1959, mineral oil used for rinsing engines was mixed with cooking oil and sold as table oil. The adulterated oil paralysed more than 10,000 people. Barbara Tomlinson joined the team of 50 delegates that the League of Red Cross Societies sent to Morocco. At the time Morocco did not have a single physiotherapist.

Red Cross' mission was to provide refuge, support and rehabilitate the people affected by the poisoned cooking oil. Barbara was stationed in Fez, at a centre that also trained local aides to continue the rehabilitation programme once Red Cross delegates returned home.

The training centres were run by Red Cross for eighteen months. Over this period, all but 120 of the victims were rehabilitated. Orthopaedic surgery was arranged for those who could not be rehabilitated.

"We were hampered somewhat by a lack of a splint maker but you could not help but admire the resilience of the men endeavouring to walk with the aid of sticks and crutches. Plaster casts hardly lasted any time as the men would push the physical boundaries of their conditions," Barbara remembers.

"My enduring memory of the men was the great love they displayed towards their children and the lengths they would go in helping them. One chap fashioned a croquet hook out if an old toothbrush and wove wool into garments for his children. Red Cross could not stay indefinitely so it was very important to leave systems and trained people in place to continue the work."

A splint workshop was set up in Fez during Barbara's time in Morocco. She returned to New Zealand in February 1961 as the head physiotherapist at Wellington Hospital.