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Last Updated: Saturday, 13 August 2005, 23:36 GMT 00:36 UK
Disease study could shape policy
Historians believe the past could shape the future
Experts are examining if the history of disease outbreaks can teach doctors lessons about how to manage public health in the future.

The handling of tuberculosis (TB), foot and mouth disease and HIV/Aids will all be put under the microscope.

University of Manchester experts will look at the way diseases were identified and contained during the last century.

It is hoped their report will be used to help shape future health policy.

Policy

Professor Michael Worboys, who led researchers from the Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine, said the project was a first for British science historians.

He added: "Our study will review the evolving risk of diseases, changing requirements for detection and identification, and input of cutting-edge science."

The idea of the report is to try and learn some lessons from the past
Dr Abigail Woods

Dr Abigail Woods, a science historian and qualified vet, will lead the project, which is expected to last three months.

She said: "Although history has a lot to say about disease control, it has not been seen as significant in terms of policy.

"The idea of the report is to try and learn some lessons from the past."

Detection

"One important issue is to decide under what circumstances technologies for detecting and monitoring disease should be applied.

She said that during the 1980s there had been calls for the introduction of random non-consensual HIV/Aids tests to plot how the disease was spreading.

But she said such widespread testing had not been introduced because it was not considered ethical.

"The idea of history is to look at the general frame work - how professional groups have used the technologies available to them, and what political, economic, scientific and personal issues have shaped their decisions."

Another area which will be examined is how TB was managed by the UK and South Africa.

Even within the UK, during the 1960s and 1970s, different medical specialists had their own ideas on how to handle the disease.

The question is whether the screening is designed to help the individual or to protect the rest of the population from potential sources of disease
Dr Abigail Woods

Public health doctors focussed on social and environmental conditions that were encouraging disease spread, while chest specialists were more concerned about the technical detection and were keen to have X-ray machines to screen immigrants at ports and airports.

Dr Wood said: "They all had their own ideas about what technologies are appropriate.

"One recurring historical theme is the need to balance the liberty and rights of the individual with the need to protect the public from infectious diseases. "

She said the report would consider to what extent people could be compelled to submit to medical interventions in the name of public health.

And she said that, although historically Britain had adopted a liberal approach to this matter, other countries have used forcible testing.

"In South Africa I will be looking at TB in the black population, especially miners and the urban poor, and how they were subjected to forced medical examinations.

"Those infected often lost their jobs and were deported to rural areas."


SEE ALSO:
Bryson's fascination with science
14 Mar 05 |  Entertainment
TB screening extended
11 Apr 01 |  Health
New foot-and-mouth action urged
02 Feb 05 |  UK Politics


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