How public promoted health via Microbiology
Microbiology was and still is the most important discovery of the later part of the eighteenth century. It is this subject which changed our lives from living in disease ridden society to rational healthful living. Microbiology also helped us in areas of agriculture, food preservation, fermentation, numerous industrial processes and sanitary practices such as water purification and sewage treatment plus enabling us to establish numerous public health guidelines such as standards of hygiene and vaccination.
It is important to realize, however, that while most of the advances were made by scientists of the caliber of Luis Pasteur and Robert Koch, it was the public which after understanding the importance of Microbiology took active part in improving the quality of our lives through numerous public spirited activities such as those of the March of Dimes which gave us the Polio vaccine and other similar agencies dealing with tuberculosis and numerous childhood diseases.
While this is good and laudable, it is more important to understand why
public so activity and willingly participated in creating standards of healthful living and improving the quality of human life and why it is not happening now as much as it happened then.
There are two reasons for this: One, most of the public constituted the sick and the dying with no recourse to affective treatment which were not then available. The public thus had a vested interest in the new knowledge; and two, circumstances were such that this new knowledge went directly to the pubic as well as the intelligentsia, especially the academia, of the time thus creating a viable partnership between the public and the academia so much so that practical hands-on courses of microbiology were taught in practically every school, college and university, limited not to the professional students but to the general public, making such courses mandatory for introductory biology and introductory science as well as home economics including the 4H clubs of the time.
It was the availability of this knowledge to the public which gave us our enviable health and economy, despite the two world wars, until about mid fifties and early sixties of the past century when newer and exciting discoveries of DNA and immunology began to shift academia's interest away from teaching hands-on classical microbiology to DNA and immunology based research. Concomitant with this shift, public knowledge of Microbiology began to decline which eventually led to serious breaks in hygiene and similar healthful practices bringing in the resurgence of diseases such as tuberculosis once brought under control plus the emergent newer diseases such as AIDS as well as incidences of numerous food borne diseases due to salmonella and E. coli plus numerous infectious and contagious diseases collectively adding to the skyrocketing health care cost.
The solution that we are proposing to this dilemma is quite simple: Teach hands-on functional microbiology again by re-opening the labs in our universities and colleges. This will do the following things: One, it will cut down on the transmission of infectious and contagious diseases and two, it will bring back a resurgence of laboratory supply houses thereby creating jobs and three, it will broaden the background of our graduate and undergraduate students who will make better, more versatile teachers, thereby offering broad based science courses and via this mechanism will once again enable us to revive interest in science, including science based jobs and careers.
As we read the above, we must never forget that sciences got their biggest boost after the discovery of microbes opening avenues so we could understand life processes at all levels of life. Practically every Nobel Laureate from the fifties and up started his or her science career as Microbiologists.
We need to give the same chance to the upcoming generations of humankind the world over.
The lesson here is simple: When practical basic knowledge spreads, society flourishes becoming self sustaining and less dependent. Every nation has something to learn and teach. True globalization requires this form of mutuality which is likely to bring peace, not war.