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HISTORY OF MEDICINE

Is it worthwhile to think of Hippocrates* as the forefather of medicine and, if

so, is this of relevance for public health?

There is no doubt, that curative medicine can claim Hippocrates as the father of

medicine, but this is also especially true for public health.

‘Thai wisdom’ and development of Western medicine in Thailand

As far as Thailand is concerned, the history of Western medicine in Thailand is

connected with Prince Mahidol, the father of His Majesty the King. Prince Mahidol studied

medicine in the United States of America and greatly supported the development of Western

medicine in Thailand. One of the leading universities in the country, having its roots in medicine,

was named ‘Mahidol University’ in honour of the achievements of the Prince. The University

displays a banner on the opening page of its website, referring to ‘Thai wisdom’, which could be

understood as a reminder of the background of healing and medical practice in Thailand in the

past up to the present day. The wording has now been changed to ‘wisdom of the land’. As far as

health is concerned this ‘wisdom’ seems to refer, among other issues, to the use of herbs and

traditional medicine and is to a great extent integrated into the teaching of medicine in many

universities, even as a special curriculum. The patients in some hospitals can choose between

attending specialties of Western medicine or departments of traditional medicine.

What has Hippocrates, a healer in ancient Greece, to do with Thailand or Asian countries

in general?

Isn’t it enough for Thailand that sufficient justice has been done to medical history by

remembering and integrating healing practiced for hundreds of years into modern medicine? So,

why refer to someone like Hippocrates, born some 2500 years ago on an island in Greece,

thousands of kilometers away from Thailand, as an important figure in the history of medicine?

However, without questioning the benefit of ‘Thai wisdom’ and the inclusion of traditional

medicine in present-day medical practice in Thailand, one might still have a better grasp of what

dealing with health and illness is all about by reflecting the history of what is nowadays termed,

‘Western medicine’.

The culture and history of Asian countries differ considerably from those in Europe, and

instinctively one would like to refer also

to matters of the history of medicine

more closely related to the Asian

continent. In fact, similar considerations

have been discussed at length by

historians in the context of continents

other than Asia, and the final conclusion

to these attempts was nicely expressed

by Elisabeth Fee in the introduction to

George Rosen’s ‘A History of Public

Health’ (1):