History- Poverty & Public Health timed essay..

“In what ways did the control of disease become a matter of public health and not individual medical cases?”

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  • Created on: 17-02-12 21:24
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History- Poverty
"In what ways did the control of disease become a matter of public health and not individual
medical cases?"
During the nineteenth century, disease quickly became a matter of public health, as opposed to
individual medical cases. This change can be attributed to a number of factors, including the recurring
persistence of disease, its causes and its effects.
Disease was not what how it is seen today. It was persistent and effected massive numbers. From
1831, there were several Cholera outbreaks, which killed people in their thousands. At the time of
the outbreaks (especially the early outbreaks) the majority of people were unaware of the scientific
explanation for disease and believed in various theories such as miasma (linking smell to disease).
Cleary this was limited in its usefulness and didn't tackle the issue directly. It was this attitude which
made the view that disease was an individual issue present in society.
However, the mere size and recurrent nature of the epidemics undoubtedly put pressure on the
government. Particularly when people such as John Snow and Edwin Chadwick advocated the view
that dirt (and water in Snow's case) was linked to disease. In the early 1840's Chadwick theorised
that disease was linked to poverty- claiming that by preventing disease there would consequently
be a reduction in poor rates. Chadwick's idea is extremely important in showing the way that
controlling disease essentially became a governmental issue. Chadwick was a key figure in the Poor
Law Commission and his opinion would have been noticed by highly influential political figures- if the
politicians did not recognise disease was a matter of public health yet, Chadwick's findings would
almost certainly consolidated this; with the added beneficial prospect of saving money.
Another way in which disease became a matter of public health was in the recognition that disease
could be prevented. Not only by improving the conditions in which many people lived, but with
improvements in technology. In 1853, the smallpox vaccination was made compulsory. This shows the
realisation that disease was an issue of public health. Making a vaccination of a fatal disease
compulsory, shows a government which ultimately recognises the benefit of spending money to
provide a preventative. Although, it may seem like an obvious step to improving the lives of people,
it was actually beneficial to everyone and shows that governments realised the importance of taking
some degree of responsibility.
Other public health acts attempted to improve living conditions. An act passed in 1875 enforcing laws
about the removal of nuisances and slum clearances among other things. Acts such as this, show how
the government were becoming increasingly aware of the responsibility they had in improving
conditions to ultimately improve the amount of disease. Whether their implementation was
successful or not, is irrelevant. The fact that the government were recognising the need for some
type of reform of public health with the ultimate goal of improving disease (and thus costs) shows
how the control of disease became a matter of public health and not individual medical cases.
There were a number of ways, and reasons, as to why disease became a matter of public health.
Most importantly, the prominence of disease in everyday society and the recognition that it could be
changed. This recognition was extremely important as before there was no need to change
anything, as government did not know the extent of the issue. But through findings such as the ones

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Snow and Chadwick they were made aware of the issue, what needed to be done and
benefits it could potentially have.…read more


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