Cholera and the 1848 Public Health Act summary



Cholera and the 1848 Public Health Act summary


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Cholera and the 1848 Public Health Act summary

Cholera and the 1848 Public Health Act

Cholera and Dr Snow.
This was a water borne disease which first appeared in Britain in 1831 – its symptoms were diarrhoea and vomiting which led to death caused by a lack of fluid in the body. Initially people blame its appearance on miasma (bad air), foreigners and Jews. In August 1954 a huge cholera epidemic broke out in London – Dr Snow believed that cholera was caused by contaminated water and contact with victims vomit. On the 7th September 1854 Snow convinced the London authorities to shut down a public stand pipe on Broad Street and this stopped the outbreak in its wake. He worked out that the stand pipe was to blame when he mapped where the victims of the epidemic lived and where the worst cases broke out. This was seen as being a success for scientific methods of treating disease although his explanation did not explain why it spread so rapidly – it would take the publication of germ theory in 1865 for this to be fully understood.

The idea of Public Health.
Over the 19th century pressure grew in Britain for the government to take part in the process of fighting disease and ill health and to promote good health. This idea became known as public health. There were two sides to this doctrine – prevention and cure. Until the 19th century people believed in the doctrine of laisses-faire – leaving things alone and the government not being involved in people lives. This doctrine began to break down as reports into poverty in towns were published in the last half of the century.

Early changes
As the cholera outbreak of the 1830s spread Boards of Health were set up in all the major cities but were disbanded when the outbreak ended. In 1835 the Municipal Corporations Act was passed which set up town councils which could charge rates for providing street lighting, clean water and sewerage disposal. In 1838 three doctors published a report into the state of health in the major towns – this shocked people and shocked the government into appointing a Sanitary Commissioner – Edwin Chadwick.

Chadwick and the 1848 Public Health Act.
In 1842 Chadwick published his work “Report on the sanitary conditions of labouring classes” – this highlighted the many problems in towns. He knew that dirt and filth caused disease but did not know why. Chadwick believed in preventing disease by putting in place proper water supplies and sewerage systems. He recommended sewerage and water pipes should be made out of glazer pottery which stopped leaks and allowed them to operate at high pressures. These pipes were designed by John Roe. Chadwick said that town councils should borrow the money to put in place these facilities and pay it back over a period of 30 years and that cemeteries should be built on the outskirts of towns. The 1848 Public Health Act was the first act of its kind in Britain and even though its powers were limited its importance as a first step cannot be overestimated. This act set of a National Central Board of Health (CBH) for a period of five years. Some councils refused to set up their own boards of health and critics of the CBH were led by The Times newspaper for trying to nanny people. This opposition led to the CBH being disbanded in 1858. Yet Chadwick was important because he was the first man to bring the issue of public health to the attention of the republic.


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Cholera and the 1848 Public Health Act summary