Sunday, January 20, 2013

Mark Harrison

Mark Harrison is professor of the history of medicine and director of the Wellcome Unit for the History of Medicine, University of Oxford. His books include Medicine and Victory: British Military Medicine in the Second World War, The Medical War: British Military Medicine in the First World War, and the newly released Contagion: How Commerce Has Spread Disease.

From his Q & A at The Daily Beast:

What’s your big idea?

There can be little doubt that trade has contributed massively to human civilization, but we have often paid dearly for the goods and services it provides. That is as true today as it was at the time of Black Death, when the links between disease and commerce first became apparent. While the specter of plague no longer looms over us, we still rely heavily on the methods designed to prevent it. Renaissance city-states produced a template for dealing with trade-borne disease, which has proved enduring but also, in many cases, ineffective. By the late 19th century, it was clear to most governments that old-style methods like quarantine and sanitary embargoes had failed to prevent the movement of disease along the pathways of the new global market. They realized that quarantine needed to be combined with sanitary reform and that nation-states needed to come together to pool epidemiological information and agree on measures to prevent the spread of disease.

Up to this point in time, states had engaged in a form of sanitary diplomacy which had more to do with furthering imperial interests than protecting public health. Quarantine had become a form of war by other means. The result was commercial chaos and sanitary disaster. Somewhere along the way, we have forgotten the lessons learned by our Victorian forebears. Like them, we need to pay more attention to the factors which give rise to diseases and to seek greater cooperation in controlling them. That means shaking off some of the bad habits we’ve acquired over the years, especially our overreliance on...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue