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The Faroe Islands
  1. Poul Joensen
  1. Correspondence to Dr Poul Joensen, National Hospital of the Faroe Islands, J. C. Svabos gøta 41-49, Tórshavn 100, Faroe Islands; eeg{at}

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The Faroe Islands are located in North Atlantic Ocean about half way between Iceland and Scotland (figures 1–3) and are inhabited by a Caucasian population of approximately 48 000, descended mostly from Scandinavian origin. The name of the islands is thought to come from the Old Norse ‘fær’, meaning sheep, and this is reflected in our coat of arms (figure 4). The language, Faroese, is somewhat like the Icelandic, but all people speak and understand Danish. The Islands are an autonomous part of the Kingdom of Denmark.

Figure 1

Location of the Faroe Islands.

Figure 2

The Faroese Flag.

Figure 3

The Faroe Islands.

Figure 4

Coat of Arms of the Faroe Islands.

The oldest information regarding neurological disease in the islands—apart from archaic hospital case records—is found in files relating to some of the islands’ population who were applying for disability pensions in 1939. These records show that the islands’ population had sufferered quite severely from encephalitis lethargica some years previously, with many patients showing signs of hypersomnia, parkinsonism and oculogyric crises. As a child in Tórshavn, I remember seeing some of these people with their characteristic movements ambling around in the streets, obviously at a time before levodopa became available. Another common phenomenon was seeing fellow school pupils with atrophic limbs limping around, with the residual features of poliomyelitis. Even more tragic was the impact of tuberculosis on the Faroes. Between 1932 and 1946, over 500 people suffered from this condition on the islands, with around 1 in 20 of these also developing tuberculous meningitis—all of whom died—since there was no appropriate antibiotic therapy available at that stage.

Most of the income of the Faroe Islands comes from fishing, salmon farming and the fish industry generally. During the Second World War, Faroese fishermen contributed to the Allied war effort by obtaining fish in Icelandic …

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  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

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    Phil Smith Geraint N Fuller