Medicine And Good Health
There are many things that we do not know about the history of medicine. For instance, how did it start?
Who was te first doctor? We will never really know the answers to these questions. However, the purpose of
medicine has always been the same, to cure disease and keep people healthy. It is important for society that
people are healthy, so a lot of money is spent o hospitals and medicine. Healthy people have better, longer lives.
Money is also spent to help doctors and other scientists try to discover new ways to treat disease, and to
explain why people are healthy and why they get ill. How do people catch a cold? Why do new diseases such
as AIDS appear? The scientists do not know, but they can look for answers. The story of medicine tells us
about finding answers and the scientists who found them. Often they had to change people’s beliefs about
health and about their bodies work. In order to treat or prevent disease, people had to understand the world in
new ways. Look at these cases.
Bad air and mosquitoes
Once malaria was a more common disease than it is today, and many people died from it. The disease was
found in more places than it is now, and some land was not farmed because malaria killed anyone who went to
live there. For centuries people in Europe believed that the disease was caused by “mal-aria”_ “bad air”. In the
6th century BC Empedocles wanted to protect the people of Selinus, in Sicily, from malaria; so he emptied the
nearby marshes from which the “ba air” was coming. In this case the action was successful, but not because
the air changed.
Empedocles’ plan worked because there was no water in marshes for mosquitoes to live in. Doctors in India
knew in the 5th century AD that mosquitoes carry malaria, but European doctors only learned this at the end of
the nineteenth century. In the seventeenth century they learned from the Incas in Peru to use quinine to treat
the disease; but they still could not prevent people getting it. In 1955 the World Health Organization ( WHO )
wanted to stop people getting the diseaseÝ so it planned to empty marshes and kill malaria mosquitoes all ove
the world. The plan worked very successfully, but now cases of malaria are increasing again.
Finding the Invisible Demons
Five hundred years ago many other diseases were common in European cities. Often a disease killed thousands
of people at a time, as in the Great Plague of London in 1655. At that time doctors did not understand what
caused diseases. It was believed that demons and bad air caused illness; or that people’s bad actions made them ill.
A few years later, in 1674, a Dutchman, Leeuwenhoek, made a very powerful microscope and saw “hundreds
and thousands animals” that were living in the air, in water, and in his mouth! People could now see bacteria,
but they did not understand that some of them, germs, were harmful. It was a French chemist, Louis Pasteur,
who showed this, and that bacteria and germs live and grow, in fact, they are organisms like other animals.
His experiments showed that living bacteria make food go bad, and that bacteria travel through the air.