Human history is rife with unfortunate instances of epidemics and the recent COVID-19 is just but a statistic to healthcare history. So far, modern healthcare systems have not found a lasting solution to this latest epidemic. Most governments have had to come up with extreme measures of lockdowns while the World Health organization has been instrumental in giving out guidelines to help ensure the spread of the epidemic is contained. This frantic and seemingly elusive solution to this Covid-19 epidemic has led to scrutiny of ancient past healthcare systems and the solutions they provided to the past epidemics (Rastogi 1). If they worked then, they could possibly work now. This paper seeks to address the issue of healthcare and epidemics in the classical antiquity period.
Healthcare in the antiquity period was focused on health promotion as well as preventive solutions as opposed to the curative focus of modern medicine. The study of antiquity medicine has mainly focused on the medicine used in ancient times and whether those medicines could be used in the modern setting. Therefore, little research has been done regarding the true potential of the healthcare systems during ancient times especially on their most effective attributes-health promotion. India, for instance, is known for its history with health epidemics (Rastogi 2). The geographical location of the country, the tropical conditions coupled with deplorable living conditions have been identified as key reasons for the prevalent epidemic cases in that region. Therefore, it can be deduced that living conditions are critical to the prevalence of epidemic, especially on the epidemic-prevention front.
Lower diagnostic capabilities during the antiquity period give a false sense of rising disease and epidemic instances. India is burdened with more than a million cases of cancer. Cancer has been affecting the Indian healthcare systems since the antiquity times. However, improved diagnostics due to modern inventions and technology have seen more cases of cancer been identified leading to more cases of cancer being reported. The Ayurveda medical system is an Indian medical system that has been in existence since antiquity time (Smith and Mohandas 4). A mixture of surgery and herbs were used in the cure of diseases such as cancer. Autopsies were also used as a way to determine the causes of death, identifying diseases, and equipping healthcare professionals in those periods with knowledge on the epidemics that would routinely affect them. This research is proof that healthcare during the antiquity period was similar to modern healthcare systems.
‘Plagues’ is a common terminology that is used to refer to many epidemics in the ancient past even though the epidemics were not the same whenever they occurred. Research has shown that many epidemics that occurred in the ancient past ended up killing millions of people and shaping up entire populations of people in Europe, Asia, and some parts of Northern Africa (Alfani and Tommy 314). Similar to the current situation, the epidemics would spread via ship through travelers and traders ending up spreading and killing millions of people. Back then, the healthcare systems were not as elaborate as they are now and most people depended on herbal medicine to treat familiar conditions (Alfani and Tommy 315). However, for plagues such as the Black Death that occurred in the 14th century killing over 50 million people, little could be done because of the limited knowledge that people had regarding the diseases.
Epidemics are, undoubtedly, part and parcel of human history, and study of the antiquity period epidemics is a testament to that. Little can be learned from the antiquity period regarding the epidemic responses. However, studies show that ancient times relied more on health promotion and preventative measures compared to the cure aspect that forms the focus of modern medicine. A switch to more preventative and healthier ways of living could probably provide the solution to avoid the extreme impacts of future epidemics.
Alfani, Guido, and Tommy E. Murphy. “Plague and lethal epidemics in the pre-industrial world.” the Journal of Economic History 77.1 (2017): 314-343.
Smith, Robert D., and Mohandas K. Mallath. “History of the growing burden of cancer in India: from antiquity to the 21st century.” Journal of global oncology 5 (2019): 1-15.
Rastogi, Sanjeev. “Viral epidemics and traditional health care systems: It’s time to act honestly, proactively, and collectively.” Annals Ayurvedic Med 9 (2020): 1-5.