Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Medical Supply Shortages


Civil War doctors faced the constant threat of medical supply shortages. Early in the war, medical personnel were often forced to obtain provisions by any means possible, even confiscating the supplies of the defeated enemy. As Union and Confederacy revamped their systems and were supported by volunteer organizations, supplies were distributed more efficiently. Sometimes they were even shared by the warring armies.

Supply problems were complicated by changes in treatment and economics. As the dollar fell against foreign currencies, there were shortages of imported drugs and wild price fluctuations. By 1863, the prices of some pharmaceuticals had risen as much as 500 percent.

Stocks of some medicines were dangerously low. Early in the war, potassium permanganate had been helpful in treating hospital gangrene. The drug hadn’t been used much prior to the war, and the new demand was difficult to satisfy.

Southern doctors were particularly hard pressed to obtain sufficient medical supplies. They tried to procure reserves from Europe, but Union Naval blockades, prevalent later in the war, complicated the already desperate situation. Fortunately, the few most important drugs, quinine, morphine, ether and chloroform, were usually available.

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