Health Care and Epidemics in Antiquity

Health Care and Epidemics in Antiquity
Health Care and Epidemics in Antiquity
The early human societies were hunters and gathers with small and scattered populations.
Importantly, they were exposed to several viral and contagious bacterial diseases such as
smallpox that require a vast and dense population to spread. Moreover, the nomadic nature and
lifestyle of these societies minimized the possibility of coming in contact with contaminated
water and piles of garbage that could attract disease-carrying insects. Additionally, before the
early domestication of animals these communities were less likely to contact diseases carried by
birds, dogs, and cattle. However, this is not to say that these early societies lived free of diseases
(Drampalos, Stogiannos, Psyllakis, Sadiq and Michos, 2014). Indeed, they suffered from
diseases caused by eating animals or passed on by lice and worms. As humans began to live,
together in the permanent settlement they started to encounter a new range of diseases.
Importantly, people living in cities and domestication of animals brought about regular
contact with parasites and pathogens through fouled waters supplies and poor sanitation. The
larger the populations, the easier it became for infectious diseases spread that previously caused
minimal havoc to the communities. Moreover, archaeological evidence shows that as the
societies started to live in the permanent settlements, they heavily relied on domesticated animals
and agriculture as the primary source of food (Hofmann, 2013). Shephard (2015), argues that
relying heavily on domesticated animals and agricultural produce, the diets of these communities
became less varied leading to malnutrition. Further, the changed diet resulted in the high spread
of disease because of reduced immunities. As a result of such epidemic earliest civilizations
started developing health care systems and theories regarding the outbreak that they were going
Healthcare approaches in Mesopotamia and Egypt
Early Mesopotamian healers had some knowledge of anatomy. They could identify the
liver as a source of anger, the heart as the site of intelligence and the kidney as the source of
strength. Similarly, they identified that some body part could become inflamed, but there was no
explanation for disease process in the body (Drampalos, et al., 2014). Importantly,
Mesopotamian tradition was mainly directed towards reducing the external cause of illness
trough rituals, incantations, and sacrifices. Importantly, the demonic explanation of the reasons
for a sickness in some way was a curse for some offense the individual had committed.
Additionally, the belief in the magical and religious cause of a disease also necessitated the
assumption that the people who could only treat the diseases were magicians and priests (York,
2012). Importantly, the preservation of the health care system required individuals to seek and
maintain a state of purity.
In Egypt, there was a religious and magical explanation with a naturalistic explanation for
disease. The understanding of these sicknesses explained how diseases worked within the body
of an individual. The Egyptian physicians argued that the body was filled with a set of vessels
which included tendons and blood vessels. A large number of remedies in the ancient Egypt were
aiming at strengthening the body vessels that could become mute and die. Such an understanding
of the body indicates how the Egyptian physicians understood diseases and the body.
Healthcare and illness epidemic in western medical tradition
Early Greek medical writing shows that a doctor famed the teaching of medicine and
disease understanding from as early as fifth B.C.E. Further, the Greeks physicians had a good
explanation for illness and health care. Importantly, they developed theories that modified and
clarified by Greek philosophers such as Aristotle and Galen. According to York (2012), the ideas
provided a clear understanding of disease management in the western Europe up to the eighteen
century. Additionally, the Greek methods of illness and health care management were also
adopted in Arabic nations and provided the foundation of Islamic theory on medicine (Shephard,
2015). European and Arabic researchers and physicians continued to use the principles
embraced by the Greek medical researchers for the next 1000 years.
Consequently, Greek Hippocratic medical authors considered several building blocks in
the body and came up with competing answers. Some argued that the body had vital fluid they
referred chymoi. The important argument with the Hippocratic authors in the Greek period was
that health requires balance in the body while the disease caused imbalance (Shephard, 2015).
Importantly, treatment for any disease was aimed at restoring the balance in the body. Further,
the Greeks believed that several factors influenced proper body balance, and the physicians
argued that health could only be restored by balancing the factors.
Healthcare and disease management in China
The traditional Chinese medicine theories argue that the body interacts with the universe
through the combined approach. Importantly, the fundamental of Chinese medicine is based on
the theory of Yang and Yin. The theory states that the body functions in an end-and-flow
equilibrium to maintain health (Hofmann, 2013). The theories of wu xing and yin-yang have
similarities as they both were applied together when treating and diagnosing patients.
Importantly, the both approaches rely on a clear understanding on the need nourish different
parts of the body. Further, the Chinese medicine divides the human body into five organs the
heart, kidney, lungs, liver, and spleen.
In conclusion, when people started living in permanent houses and cities they began to
get into regular contact with parasites and pathogens through fouled waters supplies and poor
sanitation. Several cultures such as the Egyptians, Mesopotamians, Chinese, and the Greeks have
influenced significantly modern day medicine. The theories developed by these early physicians
laid down the foundation health care systems.
Drampalos, E., Stogiannos, V., Psyllakis, P., Sadiq, M., & Michos, I. (2014). The influence of
theory on the formation of the infirmary during antiquity and the Middle Ages in the
West. Journal of medical ethics and history of medicine, 7.
Hofmann, B. (2013). Medicine as techneA perspective from antiquity.Journal of Medicine and
Philosophy, 28(4), 403-425.
Shephard, R. J. (2015). The Middle-Ages: Monasteries, Medical Schools and the Dawn of State
Health Care. In An Illustrated History of Health and Fitness, from Pre-History to our
Post-Modern World (pp. 241-346). Springer International Publishing.
York, W. H. (2012). Health and wellness in antiquity through the Middle Ages. Santa Barbara,
California : Greenwood,

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