January 18, 2007


Greatest medical milestone since 1840

Sanitation was voted the most important medical milestone in the past century and a half on Thursday in a poll conducted by a leading medical journal.

Improved sewage disposal and clean water supply systems, which have reduced diseases such as cholera, was the overwhelming favorite of 11,341 people worldwide who voted in the survey conducted by the British Medical Journal.

It surpassed antibiotics, the discovery of DNA, and anesthesia, which were among the top five milestones in the poll. Participants were asked what they thought was the biggest medical advance since the journal was established in 1840.

"I'm delighted that sanitation is recognized by so many people as such an important milestone," said Professor Johan Mackenbach, of Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam who championed the sanitation choice.

"The general lesson which still holds is that passive protection against health hazards is often the best way to improve population health," he added.

"Clearly, sanitation still plays a vital role in improving public health now and in the future," he said.

Other important milestones recommended for the top prize included the development of imaging techniques, the contraceptive pill, immunology and computers.

London was one of first cities of modern times to seriously tackle the problem of poor sanitation after a British doctor, John Snow, discovered in 1854 that cholera was water-borne and not air-borne as had previously being thought.

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