I think that the Nineteenth centaury made bigger and more important changes to Public Health then the Twentieth centaury did. In the twentieth centaury, the NHS was created which provided a free health care to everyone and technology improved dramatically so that complex operations can now take place, but I do not feel that this compares with the many discoveries of the nineteenth centaury. Edward Jenner developed the vaccine for smallpox at the end of the 18th centaury. By the 19th centaury, The vaccine became open to the public and then in 1852, the vaccine was made compulsory.
This saved hundreds of the Public from the horrible Smallpox disease. Just before this, in 1847, James Simpson discovered anaesthetics. Patients slept when they were operated on and did not have to go through the excruciating pain that had killed many people previously. Hospital patients were more likely to survive because they were not dying of shock and also because the hospitals themselves were cleaner due to Florence Nightingales campaigning in 1850. She noticed that if a hospital was clean, fewer patients died. Two other people that noticed the effect that cleanliness had on peoples health were Edwin Chadwick and John Snow.
John Snow wrote the report On the Mode of communication of cholera which was about London’s cholera outbreaks and then removed the water pump that everyone who was dying had drunk from. After this, there was no more deaths in that area. Snow had discovered the cause of the dreaded cholera and pushed the government to supply clean water to everyone. This removed the terrible disease, cholera, that had been killing lots of the public. Chadwick also wrote a report about the living conditions and the health of the poor in both the cities and countryside’s of England.
He found that the average working class man in the rural town of Rutland were outliving the upper classes in Liverpool. The two men’s reports shocked many and the government laid down it’s first Public Health Act that enforced a clean up. Local authorities had to provide clean water, a Medical Officer of Health, a proper drainage system and a proper sewerage system. Public health improved dramatically. Soon people became more excepting of the governments involvement and more Laws were passed such as the 1876 laws against polluting rivers and the regulations on food quality sold and building regulations.
All these helped improve the public health and it all started from Chadwick and Snow’s reports. Unfortunately, John Snow died in 1858, just before Louis Pasteur published his germ theory in 1861 which explained Snow’s results. Previously, people had believed that Decaying matter produced living organisms such as maggots and had no idea about germs. Pasteur recognised a link between micro-organisms and disease. Robert Koch took up this theory and proved that bacteria caused human diseases more importantly, that specific germs causes specific diseases.
Infectious diseases were the biggest killer in surgery. For thousands of years, people had been able to carry out simple surgery, such as amputations, but they did not know about infections and that it was important it was to keep the wounds clean and away from germs. Many people died after surgery. Joseph Lister discovered antiseptics. Because of Joseph Lister antiseptics and Louis Pasteur’s germ theory, people survived surgery without catching nasty infections that would have killed them. Public health isn’t just about hygiene in the streets, but also the medicine and treatments available as well.
One could argue that medicine and treatments were more advanced in the ninetieth century, but I still believe that all these discoveries and changes were more important to public health. Louis Pasteur discovery of germs and that they caused disease, the clean water that was supplied through out Britain thanks to the work of Edwin Chadwick and John Snow, James Simpson’s anaesthetics, Florence Nightingales clean hospitals and Joseph Lister’s Antiseptics all improved peoples chances of survival in hospitals and in surgery where it had previously been low are far more important to public health.