Medical geography

An important “new” area of health research that is a hybrid between geography and medicine dealing with the geographic aspects of health and healthcare. Medical geography studies the effects of locale and climate upon health. It aims to improve the understanding of the various factors which affect the health of populations and hence individuals. It is also called health geographics.

The idea that place and location may influence health is not exactly new. It is an old idea and a fertile one. Since Hippocrates (circa 3rd century BC), it has been known that certain diseases such as malaria occur in some places and not others (and for good reason). Malaria is not a disease of mountain tops. It lurks in lowlands where mosquitos breed and sting, to convey the parasitic agent of the disease — plasmodium.

A classic piece of research in medical geography was in done in 1854 as cholera gripped London. Death tolls rang around the clock from church towers. People feared they were being infected by vapors coming from the ground. A physician by the name of John Snow thought that, if he could locate the source of the disease, it could be contained. He drew maps showing the homes of people who had died of cholera and the locations of water pumps. He found that one pump, the public pump on Broad Street, was central to most of the victims. He figured that infected water from the pump was the culprit. He instructed the authorities to remove the handle to the pump, making it unusable. The number of new cholera cases plummeted. The Broad Street pump was the source of cholera.

In the early 20th century a couple of dentists in Colorado noticed that children living in areas with high levels of naturally-occurring fluoride in groundwater had fewer dental caries. Their discovery of the value of fluoride came from the application of medical geography (which, since this is dental geography, might be better called health geography).

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