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What is said here in the context of the history of public health also refers to a great extent

to the history of medicine in particular. As far as George Rosen is concerned, while he was one

of the leading historians of medicine in the United States, he studied the history of medicine in

the first half of the last century at Berlin University in Germany and married the daughter of a

German physician (2). Political developments in Germany forced him to return to America.

Rosen took a special interest in the history of public health within the overall framework of the

history of medicine, and the cover of his book (displayed below) relates very well to one of the

major public health fields of interest, namely a clean environment as a precaution against one of

the serious plagues of mankind throughout centuries - cholera.

Is Hippocrates the ‘father of medicine’ also the ‘father of public health’?

The history of public health requires a consideration of distinctive aspects of health and

disease when compared with curative medicine. The question therefore arises as to whether

Hippocrates, who is proudly claimed as the ‘father of

medicine’ by the curative sector, might also be of special

importance for public health in that he showed that

public health, as it is known today, has its roots in

ancient times and goes back to his teaching and his


It might be even argued that the teaching of

Hippocrates is still highly relevant for public health but

less so for curative medicine. For instance, the

Hippocratic Oath, the fundamental basis of ethics in

medical practice, might not have been formulated by

him, but may well have been written after his death (3).

At the time Hippocrates was alive, there was a conflict

between two different schools of thought about medical

practice: the Knidians based their management of

patients on the diagnosis of diseases, while the Koans, to

which Hippocrates belonged, had a more general

approach to diagnosis and focused on passive treatments.

Modern medicine is entirely based on the principle that diagnosis of a disease comes first and

appropriate treatment can only be based on a diagnosis. Of course, at the time of ancient Greece

it was almost impossible to come to a correct diagnosis, and that is why Hippocrates might have

leaned towards the Koans. Clinical practice nowadays hardly resembles what Hippocrates taught,

but this is not the case when it comes to public health.

The achievements of Hippocrates were valid for both curative medicine and public health

due to his teaching that diseases are not caused by superstitions or the interference of gods, but

have natural causes (3). Whether curative medicine, as far as the laymen is concerned, is entirely

free of superstitions might be questioned, but it is difficult to blame public health for having to

deal with superstition when it comes to manage and solve public health problems. He also

stressed the necessity of observation and documentation. His aim was to observe the patient and