Scientific Nation presents to you the History of medicine and medical science practices. From Egypt to India and from Penicillin to Covid-19 vaccine. The humans have witnessed all. Medical Sciences are a necessity, so it needs a progression. For, this progression there is a need for an understanding of the history of medicine and the origin of medical sciences. In the Scientific Nation, we believe knowledge is only the way for optimism. The scientific nation is all for you.
History of medicine, a tale from eternity.
The History of medicine is from eternity. From the whipping of bones to the swiping of the fingers, from looking to the sky to the gazing at the monitor, from cursing the Heavens to the lynching of the Doctors. From the blessings to cure to the Vaccine for a cure, the History of Medicine has been the very Journey of the Human Race. Sometimes I wonder, what if COVID-19 happened in ‘19 before a Century? A ‘19 before a Millenium? What would have been done by us Humans? What was our state back at those times? And a few more of these questions interrupted by another set of questions.
Well, these are the questions that have brought us here now and they’re the questions that will keep us moving.
So do we have more advanced medical technology today? Are people not dying of illnesses? Such questions do have contradictory answers because both sides, be it yes or no, seem legitimate. So while we pursue our future endeavors, let’s take a small trip to the past as well, and then we will know that we stand exactly where we have put ourselves. It is neither far advanced nor primitive at all. The realization that there has been a journey from “meeting the needs” to “meeting the needs”. A journey from “progress” to “progress” and a journey from “Healing” to ‘Healing”. This would be the conclusion of your precious time with me.
Let’s explore where the history of medicine has for us. There is certainly a lesson to be learned.
Overview of History of medicine.
As I mentioned before, the journey and history of Medicine have been the very journey of Mankind. There has never been a pinpoint event that marks the history of Medicine and medical sciences. Maybe the very hunting of a boar was the medicine for a partner’s displeasure. Or maybe a warm hug to someone in sorrow. As rightly said that this Science and art of healing was probably “Conceived in Sympathy and Born out of Necessity.”
But one fact is evident, that medicine has not been an invention of one place, person, or period. So, the history of medicine is not about a single entity. It has developed from the contribution of different people, all sorts of medicine men, priests, alchemists, and magicians. It has been extracted from different cultures like Indian, Greek, Egyptian, Chinese, etc. And inspired, preserved, integrated and modified at different phases of time.
The earliest history of Medicine and Medical Science was based on the “The Supernatural Theory of Disease”. More or less in every culture this was the earliest basis of diagnosis and treatment, served in various ways. The possession of the body by the “Evil Spirits” and performing of various rituals to treat it. This is still widely followed in many different countries in Europe and Asia. And this is probably the Primitive Medicine, whether it works or worked is still questionable. However on a scientific basis and modern academic framework there seem no severe harms of this system. Despite scientific advancement in the Medical Field, these rituals persist among us.
In the ancient times of the world or any culture. The Concept of Treatment and Diagnosis was mostly based on religious activities. The concept of the doctor and the divine was not separate. The one who could heal was the Divine. And so might have this tradition led to the worshipping of several Gods across the globe.
The Ancient World was scattered into different regions which hardly had any communication with the other regions. So different cultures showed different degrees of advancement and effectiveness at a particular point in time. In such a situation, looking at the History of Medicine and the medical sciences of the World would be difficult. Description of each culture would make this text lengthy and boring and for the readers.
The Ancient History of medicine.
The ancient history of medicine was unique for every nation and culture. While every culture has inspired thinkers towards better possible technology. There are some specific cultures whose medicine culture was far from primitive in the timeline of the History of Medicine. They had procedures, organizations, better schools, well-built hospitals, thinkers and philosophers, doctors and nurses, and books and records. In all these cultures medicine was associated with religion. Although, they had certain extra elements that were unique to the culture. This might have in some way inspired us to the current version of the Medical System.
The concept of infection was first found in the Egyptian Papyrus. They mentioned it arises due to the absorption of harmful substances by our intestines, leading to putrefaction of blood and formation of pus. Though it seems factually incorrect. The concept although rudimentary is not different from today.
The Egyptians and Indians were also the first cultures to introduce research and recording. The knowledge of Ayurveda was derived from the Medical Knowledge of the Atharvaveda which dates back to around 5000 B.C.
This means even around that time, people were aware of recording knowledge in books to let it spread and continue. Even in Egypt, the medical knowledge was inscribed in various “Papyrus” whose earliest versions date back to 3000 B.C. Egyptian cities were well planned, well-drained and the Indians excelled in the knowledge of Herbs. Ancient Indian medicine, although linked strongly with spirituality, was a science of its kind, and every day discoveries about our system amuse the world even today at this stage of modernization.
As we already planned to look at the history of the medical systems of the world from an integrated perspective, I can plan to describe the Glory of the Indian Medicine System in a different piece.
Spiritual and Herbal medicine is still prevalent but an inspiration for Modern Medicine came from the Greek Culture. They were the first ones to challenge the so-called “Supernatural theory”. The most important of the Greek figures was Hippocrates (460-370 B.C.), who classified diseases based on observation and reasoning. He also authored a good number of books containing various clinical cases and scenarios. Hippocrates not only enhanced the world’s perspective on curative medicine but also spread awareness about Preventive Medicine.
Wherein he played an essential role in laying the foundation of the subject of Epidemiology. While the perspective of the diseases was changing in the west, the East was not very primitive. At around 226 B.C., the Buddhist ruler in India, King Ashoka gave more emphasis on public health. He started establishing Medical Schools and Public Hospitals and patronized Ayurveda as the State Medicine.
While the world was constantly changing from one system of medicine to the other, in the Indian subcontinent the Science of Ayurveda was undergoing a massive transformation within itself. Books were being written, medicines were being explored, researched and added to the records. A popular name among the eastern world was that of Indian scientist Maharishi Charaka at around 200 B.C.
He classified around 500 drugs for various illnesses and the efficiency of those could just be cognized by the fact the Indian Snakeroot (rauwolfia). From this, the anti-hypertensive drug reserpine is extracted. This has been mentioned in one of Charaka’s famous book on medicine named, “Charaka Samhita”. And later during the Buddhist era, the science of Ayurveda witnessed tremendous development. India also began practicing a systematic science of Surgery which could be well identified by the evidence left behind by Medical legends like Sushruta who is also known as the Father of Indian Surgery.
So Indian System was dominant in the world during the Buddhist Era which can be understood by the facts that point to a free exchange of knowledge between the Indians, Greeks, Persians, and Jewish scholars, until the Medieval Period where the development stopped due to invasions and lack of state fundings.
Medieval era and the History of Medicine
In the medieval era, the History of Medicine is more refined. While India was undergoing multiple invasions and Europe was getting consumed by numerous epidemics. Medical Science in the world was undergoing a recession. While the Indian graph reached an asymptote, the Greek works were being translated by the Arabs. So during the Middle Ages (500-1500 A.D.), there was a rise in the Islamic Medical System. One of the well-known Persian figures in Medicine was Ibn Sina aka Avicenna, who did pioneering work in developing the Unani System of Medicine.
The Arabs were one of the firsts to integrate chemistry and drugs and introduce chemical-pharmacology. They also wrote books and encyclopedias on children’s diseases and introduced the system of writing prescriptions. In the same era later, Arabic medicine was acquainted by Christian Medicine with the rise of the missionaries. With the Establishment of a large number of hospitals in Arabia and Europe, the world advanced to the dawn of modern medicine.
The Modern History of Medicine.
The modern history of medicine is all about revolution. Modern Medicine has born out of various reforms and revolutions that began from 1500 A.D. onwards and most contributions to it have come from Europe. The major shift had taken place in the comprehension of medicine from the thinkers and philosophers to the scientists whose theories were now based on observations. Figures like Paracelsus, Vesalius had then become the center of attraction in the medical field.
They destroyed the Supernatural Theories and started systematic ways for Medical education in the form of various subjects like Anatomy, Physiology, and Pathology. The studies were then based on the observations and Colleges like the Royal College of Surgery were being set. The 17th and 18th Centuries brought a lot of scientific advances, and with those, the advancement of the Medical Sciences boosted by many folds. With the invention of the microscope the theories such as the “Germ Theory of Disease” started emerging and. With them, they brought a quest for the development of vaccines.
The 19th and 20th-century witnessed a sudden growth in the advancement of Medical Sciences, medicine began to be supported by technology and then modern diseases like Cardio-vascular, Diabetes, Cancer, etc were being started to be brought under the limelight. The causes of diseases gradually shifted from Germ theory to the Multifactorial Causes. Hence Modern Medicine began to be studied under various Dimensions like Preventive, Curative, and Social Medicines.
Curative Medicine received wide developmental support from the rapidly evolving technology, this led to the revolution in the field of aliphatic medicine, and diagnosis got enhanced by more sophisticated tools and procedures. Medicine was more and more specialized and so was its study. Allocation of different subjects of specific concern had begun and so started the Specialization and Departmentalisation of medicine.
While curative medicine developed to a great extent, the concern for public health was emerging side by side. Health was not only regarded at an individual level, but the idea of a healthy community for better public health was growing rapidly and this also led to the increased efforts in the field of research and eradication of the prevalent diseases through the anti-bacterial, antivirals, and changes in the lifestyle of people.
Preventive Medicine developed side by side and issues like sanitation, hygiene, proper nutrition, fitness and lifestyle were given more importance. The world after the 1950s saw an increase in efforts to eradicate infectious diseases through proper screening and tests like serology and x-rays. Social Medicine too emerged as a new wing of the Medical Sciences, where the study has been carrying on how the local and official environment affect the mental and physical health of the people.
And studies on the lifestyles of people have proved to be very fruitful as it exposes the risk factor for non-communicable diseases like Diabetes, Heart problems, Cancer and various other lifestyle and occupation induced hazards and still, the efforts are being made constantly in overcoming these issues with proper techniques. Recently the science of Biotechnology has been emerging and is proving successful in the treatment of both infectious as well as non-infectious diseases, be it production of insulin or the vaccine for Smallpox, Biotechnology is the new advance in the field of Medicine.
Are we creating a new history of medicine for the future?
So far we know that the scope of medicine in one dimension has evolved from the level of an Organism to an organ. Organ to Cells and Cells to the Molecular levels. While in some other dimensions the perspective of health has rather expanded from an individual to a population as a whole.
So we understand one fact clearly, there is never an ultimate for Medical Science. As the whorls of the human mind unravel, the new ideas keep impressing the mind. Today the world is advancing towards “The Alternate Medicine” which proves that the current form of Medical Science has challenges. It probably has to share the advanced history of medicine with the Alternate Medicine also.
As we somehow manage to find the flaws even now and this is what makes us conclude, that the history of medicine is a journey from “Learning” to “Learning”, from “Understanding” to “Understanding”, from “Debating” to “Debating”, from ”Discovering” to “Discovering” and from “Rejecting and Accepting” to “Rejecting and Accepting”. The medicine, be it then or now is just adequate to meet the needs of the time. Otherwise, we would not be sitting between the warmth of our homes in this cold winter, waiting for the COVID-19 vaccine to come and end this Catastrophe of this Modern Era.
Stay Home, Stay Safe, and Wear Masks. We’re Travelling the journey of Medicine Together, we are not different, we are one, we are an Ecosystem.
1. K. Park – Park’s Textbook of Preventive and Social Medicine – 25th Edition (For MBBS Students, India)
2. Internet resources.
Note: This article on the history of medicine is entirely an extract from various sources. History of medicine is a well-researched subject by various intellectuals of the associated fields and it is due to their immense efforts that we can gather a vast amount of knowledge of these subjects just by turning a few pages or a few clicks. Hence, keeping that in mind I as the author of this article do not claim any fact or information to be of my own.
I made certain references for writing this article whose only purpose is to present the history of medicine to a layman in a more lucid and reader-friendly language. I do not take any credit for writing this article. Rather I dedicate this article to those great personalities who do the experiments and research to bring out new pieces of information now and then and contribute to the vast ocean of knowledge.
This article serves the purpose of looking at the history of Medicine and medical sciences from a broad perspective, if the reader is interested in these subjects, I would suggest the reader go through the references which I have given below. Your valuable opinion about this writing is heartily welcomed.