UCL News


Press cutting: A sewer is the best medicine, poll declares

19 January 2007

Public sanitation - and with it the flushing lavatory - has been voted the greatest medical breakthrough since 1840.

Sewage disposal and clean water supplies, among other aspects of sanitation, were chosen over 15 key medical advances named in an international poll by the 'British Medical Journal'. …

A shortlist of 15 discoveries was narrowed down to antibiotics, anaesthesia, vaccines, DNA and sanitation before the winner was announced yesterday. …

In the 18th century, infectious diseases led to huge numbers of deaths, including those from cholera, tuberculosis, diphtheria, measles, smallpox and typhoid. …

Dr Anne Hardy [Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine at UCL] said that sanitation had provided the key building block for public health.

The creation of sewerage systems by engineers, while not a medical milestone in the strictest sense, worked alongside doctors to change attitudes towards hygiene and health.

David Rose, 'The Times'