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 22 February 2018

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News

Sanitation is the greatest medical milestone since 1840

Sanitation has been voted the greatest medical milestone since 1840, revealed the British Medical Journal in this week's press release.

News image

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Over the last 10 days, more than 11,000 people from around the world have voted in the British Medical Journal's poll to find the greatest medical breakthrough since the journal began.

The project is a celebration of the most important medical advances of the past 166 years to mark a complete redesign of the journal and its website.

Sanitation beat 15 other medical advances, including the discovery of antibiotics, the creation of the Pill, and the development of vaccines.

Despite the strong field, sanitation was the undisputed winner with 1,795 votes.

Antibiotics was a close second with 1,642 votes and anesthesia took third place.

Over 11,000 people from around the world voted
British Medical Journal

Leading doctors and scientists championed each milestone.

Professor Johan Mackenbach of Erasmus University Medical Center, Rotterdam, spoke after the results were announced.

Championing sanitation, he commented, “I'm delighted that sanitation is recognized by so many people as such an important milestone.”

“The general lesson which still holds is that passive protection against health hazards is often the best way to improve population health.”

The original champions of the sanitary revolution were John Snow, who showed that cholera was spread by water.

His colleague, Edwin Chadwick, came up with the idea of sewage disposal and piping water into homes.

Inadequate sanitation is still a major problem in the developing world.

In 2001, unsafe water, sanitation and hygiene accounted for over 1 million deaths from diarrheal disease in low and middle-income countries.

Professor Mackenbach concludes, “Clearly, sanitation still plays a vital role in improving public health now and in the future.”

Dr Fiona Godlee, BMJ Editor said: “The response to our poll has been overwhelming.”

“It is deeply heartening to see science and medicine provoke such passion and debate.”

“Selecting a single winner was always going to be difficult, but I'm delighted that the BMJ has helped to remind everyone of the great contribution that medicine and science has made to our lives now and in the future.”

BMJ 2007: press release
19 January 2007

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