Book celebrates centenary of city's advances in public health

12/08/04

A new book charting the health of Edinburgh residents in the past century is launched today, Wednesday (8 December) at the University of Edinburgh. Written to celebrate the founding of the Usher Institute for Public Health in Edinburgh in 1902, the book describes the fight to beat the killer diseases of smallpox and tuberculosis which plagued the city a hundred years ago, and the current battle against the 'new' challenges of HIV, herpes, and hepatitis C, cardiovascular disease and genetic diseases. The book sets the Edinburgh scene in the context of global health, and looks to the future.

The Usher Institute was founded at a time when the health of the Edinburgh residents was showing some improvement, due to better housing and economic conditions in the city. The lethal epidemics of cholera and typhus disappeared sooner from Edinburgh than from any other large city in the UK, but other health and social problems like diphtheria, tetanus, polio and malnutrition of children, remained. Edinburgh pioneered many advances in public health.

Edinburgh was the first University in Britain, and one of the first in the world, to have an academic Department of Public Health. Professor Raj Bhopal, the Alexander Bruce and John Usher Professor of Public Health at the University said: "The Usher Institute has helped to keep Edinburgh at the forefront of research and education and make it one of the finest cities in Europe, and a healthy place to live. The Institute has trained students from all over the world and has had a global influence.

"The research programmes, including those on breast cancer, vascular disease, tuberculosis and health care evaluation have helped toward the University of Edinburgh's reputation as an international research centre. Nowadays, we focus on the study of the patterns of disease in populations; the social, environmental and genetic basis of disease and the way diseases are prevented, controlled and cured."

He added: "The Usher Institute was built with a major donation from Sir John Usher of Norton, of the famous Edinburgh distillers, and provided laboratory and teaching facilities for medical officers of health and student doctors. The Institute, in Warrender Park Road, is now used by the University as student accommodation. The successor to the Usher Institute, public health sciences, is now located in the old Medical School in Teviot Place. It is appropriate, therefore, that a new centenary funding appeal is underway to keep the sciences of public health at the forefront of international research in the 21st century. The focus of this appeal is turning advances in the understanding of human genetics into better health for the people."

  • Public health: past, present and future, is edited by Professor Raj Bhopal and John Last and published by the Nuffield Trust. Among guests attending the book launch will be Professor Sir Denis Pereira Gray, chairman of the Nuffield Trust and Professor Timothy O'Shea, Principal of the University of Edinburgh.

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