History of Medicine

The story of the evolution of medicine cannot be told adequately. It has been truly said that medicine was first conceived in sympathy and born out of necessity.

As the human being proceeded towards civilization, remained in family and in community. They believed suffering and other calamities because of Gods. So, start praying God but later they believed the evil spirit and malevolent influence of stars and planets and Medicine practice consisted in appeasing Gods by prayer, ritual and sacrifices driving out evil spirit from human body by witchcraft and other crude means charms and amulets to protect against the influence of evil spirit. Medicine in 5000BC was intermingled with superstition, religion, magic and witchcraft.

Ayurvedic systems origin is traced back to Vedic times about 5000BC. Dhanvhantari, the Hindu god of Medicine is said to have born as result of churching of ocean during tug of war between Gods and Demons. Atharvaved (one of the four Vedas) gradually developed in to science of Ayurveda. This system has tridosha or humors theory of disease. The doshas are wind, gall and mucus. Diseases were explained as disturbance in equilibrium of three humors.

Chinese medicine claim to be the world’s first organized body of medical knowledge dating back to 2700BC. It is based on two principles: the Yang & Yin. The Yang is believed to be an active masculine principle and Yin a negative feminine principle. The balance of these two opposing forces meant good health.

Egyptian medicine reached its peaks in days of Imhotep (2800BC) who was considered both doctor and divinity. They believed that disease due to absorption of harmful substances which give rise to putrefaction of blood and formation of pus. The best known medical manuscripts belonging to Egyptian times are Edwin Smith Papyrus (300-2500BC) and Ebers Papyrus (1150BC).

Contemporary with ancient Egyptian civilization, there existed another civilization in the land which lies between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, Mesopotamia (now part of Iraq) 6000 years ago. The basic concept of Mesopotamian medicine was religious and taught and practice by herb doctor, knife doctor and spell doctor. Mesopotamia was cradle of magic and necromancy. Medical students were busy in classifying, demon cause of disease. The medicine of this time was devoid of any scientific foundation.

The classic period of Greek medicine was years 460 – 136 BC. An early leader in medicine was Aesculapius (1200 BC). Hippocrates was greatest physician (460 – 370 BC) in Greek medicine who is also called the father of medicine. He challenged the traditional magic and initiated a radically new approach in medicine i. e. application of clinical methods. He framed two rules, one is contraria contralus curenter i. e. opposite cures opposite another similia similibus curenter i. e. like cures likes. But only contraria contralus curenter was developed, another remained only as approach. Greeks believed that the matter was made of four elements, earth, air, fire and water. These elements had the corresponding qualities of being cold, dry, hot and moist and were representing in the body by four humors phlegm, yellow bile, blood and black bile. The Greek postulated that the health prevailed when the four humors were in equilibrium.

After decay of Greek civilization by first century civilization shifted to Rome. Romans borrowed their medicine largely from the Greek whom they had conquered. Galen (130 – 205 AD) was an outstanding figure among Roman medical teachers. Galen followed strongly the rule of contraria contraris curantur and become literally medical dictator in his time. His writings were accepted for 14 centuries till his teachings and views were challenged by anatomist Vesalius (1543) and physiologist William Harvey (1628) almost 1500 years after his death.

The period between 500 and 1500 AD is generally known as middle ages. With the fall of Roman Empire medical schools disappeared. Europe was ravaged by many diseases. The practice of medicine reverted back to primitive medicine dominated by superstition and dogma. This period was Dark Age of medicine in Europe. But Arab stole march over rest of the civilization and translated the Greco – Roman medical literature into Arabic and developed their own system known as Unani system of medicine. Leaders in Arabic medicine were Persian. Abu Berc (865 – 925) known as Rhazes and Ibn Sina (980 – 1037) known as Avicenna to western world. Avicenna was responsible for elevating Islamic medicine to its zenith in the Middle Ages. The greatest contribution of the Arabs in general was in the field of pharmacology.

The period following 1500 AD marked by revolution – political, industrial, religious and medical Paracelsus (1493 – 1541) who revived medicine was born at the time when Europe stretched her limbs after sleep of a thousand years in bed of darkness. He publicly burned the works of Galen and Avicenna and attacked superstition and dogma and helped to turn medicine towards rational research.

Francastoris (1483 – 1553) and Italian physicians enunciated the theory of contagion. He envisaged the transfer of infection via minute invisible particle and explained the cause of epidemic. Andreas Vasalius (1514 – 1564) of Brussels raised study of Anatomy science and has been called the first man of modern science. French army surgeon Ambroise Pare (1510 – 1590), father of surgery advanced the art of surgery.

The 17th and 18th centuries were full of even more exciting discoveries. Harley discovered circulation of blood (1628). Leuwenhoek in 1670 discovered microscope. Medicine finally shed the rags of dogma and superstition and put on the robes of scientific knowledge after French bacteriologist Louis Pasteur (1822 – 1895) demonstrated the presence of bacteria in air (1860) and the germ theory of disease brought golden age of bacteriology and microbe after microbes were discovered.

During period of discoveries and invention when Europe was marked by plethora pf theories and hypothesis concerning the nature of disease and its causation, Christian Friedrick Samuel Hahnemann, father of Homoeopathy was born in 10th April 1755 at Meissen in Saxony of Germany as the third child of porcelain painter Christian Gottfried Hahnemann and Johanna Christiana. He was an allopathic physician who was disappointed with the methods of treatment of that day and invented Homoeopathy system in 1796.

After 1900, medicine moved faster towards specialization and a rational, scientific, approach to disease.

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