|The Armed Forces Research Institute of Medical Sciences started out, in 1959, as the Thailand Southeast Asia Treaty Organization Cholera Research Project in Bangkok. During the spring of 1958, a cholera epidemic, the first in almost 10 years, began near Dacca, East Pakistan, spread through Calcutta, India, and hit Bangkok and surrounding provinces. A similar cholera outbreak appeared to be underway in the spring of 1959. At the fifth annual meeting of the SEATO Council, in April 1959, the U.S. representative and ambassador to Thailand secured backing for a cooperative cholera research project under SEATO sponsorship.
In the summer of 1959, a committee was established to develop an organizational plan and recommend a location for the CRP in South or Southeast Asia. By August 1959, the committee provided two suggestions for the location of the SEATO CRP: Dacca, East Pakistan, and Bangkok, Thailand. Although the committee was impressed by the professional qualifications and experience of Bangkok’s medical community, its laboratory resources, and the country’s relative political stability, Thailand was not the logical choice for location of the CRP, with cholera at most episodic and apparently receding that spring. Still, in line with military and foreign policy considerations, the committee recommended to the SEATO Council that Bangkok be the CRP’s temporary location. In response to a diplomatic note, the Thai minister of foreign affairs replied that the Thai Ministry of Public Health was authorized to cooperate with the United States in establishing the Thailand SEATO CRL. Operations commenced in late December.
In Thailand, the SEATO CRL became the SEATO Medical Research Laboratory in January 1961 after an exchange of diplomatic letters in December 1960 between the US Department of State, the Royal Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and SEATO headquarters. The SEATO MRL was then quickly restructured and augmented in mission, personnel, and resources. A comprehensive survey of medical research resources in Asia Pacific by the U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command confirmed the strategic importance of the SEATO MRL. During and after the Vietnam conflict, the MRL conducted medical research on infectious diseases important to the soldier and public health. The MRL also provided research and reference laboratory support, teams, and medical experts to support the U.S. Army Medical Research Team from the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Vietnam during the war. The SEATO MRL became AFRIMS in 1977 and remains the largest U.S. Army overseas medical research laboratory.