This textbook occupies a unique niche. Public health medicine is a major part of medicine in the tropics. While there are several tomes that cover tropical medicine in developing countries and have a public health element, there is nothing as good as this book at covering tropical public health in the price range.
The core strength of the text has always been its emphasis on control of communicable diseases, in particular parasitic diseases, and this remains true in the new edition. The outlines are clear, with some of the best parasite life cycles available in one book; the science has remained as up to date as is realistic for a short textbook; and, while the sections on control of communicable diseases should ideally be expanded, they remain very useful.
The authors have added to the core over the years, especially in non-communicable diseases. This edition has a new economics section that is well done and genuinely useful, as cost-effectiveness is even more important in resource-poor countries than in more affluent ones. An environmental section is good in its way, but probably less complete on water/sanitation than might be expected, given the importance of these subjects. HIV is covered, but again not in the depth that the impact of the disease on public health demands.
However, with some of the other additions the space might have been better used to expand the prevention aspects of the communicable diseases than describing conditions such as heatstroke (a serious medical problem, but not really something for public health doctors).
The book is at its least useful when it tries to be a mini textbook of clinical tropical medicine; there are several others in this field that are as good or better. The addition of colour plates is a new departure but, disappointingly, many add little or nothing to the text, and some are outdated, of poor quality or misleading. Occasionally, there is too much reliance on World Health Organization statements: a colour plate demonstrating that leprosy was almost eradicated in 1997, for example, is unduly optimistic.
Is this textbook worth buying if you are interested in tropical public health? Yes, if you do not own a previous edition. But, if you do, the new edition does not add enough that is genuinely useful to justify upgrading.
Christopher Whitty is clinical senior lecturer, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
Short Textbook of Public Health Medicine for the Tropics. Fourth edition
Author - Adetokunbo O. Lucas and Herbert M. Gilles
Publisher - Arnold
Pages - 389
Price - £17.99
ISBN - 0 340 75988 7