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Sanitation is ‘greatest medical breakthrough’

Poll selects it as the best advance in 166 years


Sanitation is the greatest medical breakthrough of the past 166 years according to a poll of thousands of people from across the globe.

More than 11,000 people voted in the British Medical Journal’s (BMJ) poll to find the greatest medical breakthrough since the journal began in the 1840s.
Sanitation – the hygienic disposal or recycling of waste – beat 15 other medical advances, including the discovery of antibiotics, the creation of the contraceptive 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 anaesthesia took third place.

‘Important milestone’

Leading doctors and scientists championed each milestone. Professor Johan Mackenbach of Rotterdam’s Erasmus University Medical Center, who championed sanitation, said:

‘I’m delighted that sanitation is recognised 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, and Edwin Chadwick, who came up with the idea of sewage disposal and piping water into homes.
BMJ Editor Dr Fiona Godlee said: ‘Selecting just one 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.’

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