From time immemorial man has been interested in trying to control disease .
The “explosion” of knowledge during the 20 th century has made medicine more complex, and treatment more costly, but the benefits of modern medicine have not yet penetrated the social periphery in many countries.
The glaring contrasts in the state of health between the developed and developing countries, between the rural and urban areas, and between the rich and poor have attracted worldwide criticism as “ social injustice ”.
Currently, the commitment of all countries, under the banner of the World Health Organization , is to wipe out the inequalities in the distribution of health resources and services, and attain the Millennium Development Goals.
The goal of modern medicine is no longer merely treatment of sickness.
The other and more important goals which have emerged are prevention of disease , promotion of health and improvement of the quality of life of individuals and groups or communities .
Medicine was dominated by magical and religious beliefs which were an integral part of ancient cultures and civilization.
Any account of medicine at a given period should be viewed against the civilization and human advancement at that time, i.e. philosophy , religion, economic conditions, form of government, education, science and aspirations of the people.
It has been truly said that medicine was conceived in sympathy and born out of necessity.
The prehistoric man, motivated by feelings of sympathy and kindness, was always at the behest of his kindred, trying to provide relief, in time of sickness and suffering.
The primitive man attributed disease, and in fact all human suffering and other calamities, to the wrath of gods, the invasion of body by “evil spirits” and the malevolent influence of stars and planets.
The concept of disease is known as “ supernatural theory of disease”.
The administration of certain herbs or drugs whose effect is doubtful or nil, but hopefully harmless, may also be likened to a kind of magic ritual associated with the need to “do something”.
In ancient Mesopotamia (now part of Iraq),6000 years ago the basic concepts of medicine were religious, and taught and practised by herb doctors, knife doctors and spell doctors –a classification that roughly parallels our own internists, surgeons and psychiatrists .
Hammurabi, a great king of Babylon who lived around 2000 b.C. formulated a set of drastic laws known as the Code of Hammurabi.
Doctors whose proposed therapy proved wrong ran the risk of being killed.
Laws relating to medical practice, including fees payable to physicians for satisfactory services and penalties for harmful therapy are contained in the Babylonian Code of Hammurabi .
Since he distinguished between diseases which were epidemic and those which were endemic.
He was constantly seeking the causes of disease.
The Greeks believed that matter was made up of four elements – earth, air, fire and water.
These elements had the corresponding qualities of being cold, dry, hot and moist and were represented in the body by the four humors – phlegm, yellow bile, blood and black bile – similar to the “tridosha theory” in Ayurveda.
An outstanding figure among Roman medical teachers was Galen .
He was physician to the Roman emperor, Marcus Aurelius.
His important contributions were in the field of comparative anatomy and experimental physiology .
His writings influences European medicine.
They were accepted as standard textbooks in medicine for 14 centuries, till his teachings and views were challenged by the anatomist, Vesalius in 1543, and the physiologist, William Harvey in 1628, almost 1500 years after his death.
I swear by Apollo , the healer, Asclepius , Hygieia , and Panacea , and I take to witness all the gods, all the goddesses, to keep according to my ability and my judgment, the following Oath and agreement:
To consider dear to me, as my parents, him who taught me this art ; to live in common with him and, if necessary, to share my goods with him; To look upon his children as my own brothers, to teach them this art.
I will prescribe regimens for the good of my patients according to my ability and my judgment and never do harm to anyone.
In every house where I come I will enter only for the good of my patients, keeping myself far from all intentional ill-doing and all seduction and especially from the pleasures of love with women or with men, be they free or slaves.
All that may come to my knowledge in the exercise of my profession or in daily commerce with men, which ought not to be spread abroad, I will keep secret and will never reveal.
If I keep this oath faithfully, may I enjoy my life and practice my art, respected by all men and in all times; but if I swerve from it or violate it, may the reverse be my lot.