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From public health to the health of the public

BMJ 1998; 317 doi: (Published 29 August 1998) Cite this as: BMJ 1998;317:550

Modern public health problems will not be solved by anything as simple as sewers

  1. Stephen Palmer, Mansel Talbot professor of epidemiology and public health. (
  1. University of Wales College of Medicine, Cardiff CF4 3QX

    Editorial p 549 Recent advances p 584 Education and debate pp 587-98

    “I have … been taken to see the worst parts of the worst towns in England … but never did I see anything which could compare with Merthyr … one of the most strongly marked cases of the evil so frequently observed, of allowing a village to grow into a town, without providing the means of civic organisation. It is the story of laissez-faire carried out to its legitimate conclusion.”1 So said P H Holland writing to the General Board of Health on 15 December 1853. The priority was for clean drinking water and sewage disposal “before the cholera returns.” Holland hoped that the yet to be appointed officer of health would agree, since he believed that “the labour of such (an) officer will do much to remove the ignorance which has permitted such evils to arise, to …

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