Health and Disease in Asia
The industrial revolution that produced the Gatling
gun, a weapon of great importance in European colonial expeditions, also
produced the microscope. The microscope was central to the "germ revolution"
from the late nineteenth century, as European and American medical scientists
identified the parasites responsible for ancient tropical diseases - malaria,
cholera, hookworm infection, trypanosomiasis -- and pharmaceutical companies
manufactured vaccines for these diseases. The euphoric feeling in this
ability to intervene in disease led to a reference to vaccines as the
"magic bullet": medical doctors only needed a correct diagnosis (aided
by the microscope) to deliver the right medication. But the interventionist
ability of western science-based medicine was still limited at the turn
of the twentieth century, and this observation remains true even today.
The development and application of synthetic drugs was a post-1930s phenomenon.
Western medicine was an important adjunct to missionary work in Africa
and Asia. Western medical scientists had made important discoveries in
tropical medicine in China and India. In fact, it was in China in 1877
that the British, Patrick Manson, discovered that filaria undergoes a
development in a mosquito. In C-30.54.009,
we see a Basel Mission graveyard in Bangalore. India is a malarial zone
and is said to be the cradle of cholera. European missionary morbidity
and mortality was high in India and China for the nineteenth century.
Religious ablutions are characteristic of Hinduism and Islam. In C-30.62.116
and C-30.62.117, men and women
bathe separately in pools as part of the worship activities associated
with the festival for the deity, Krishna, in Udapi, India. Incidentally,
such ritual ablutions of religious devotees provided a site for the dissemination
of cholera in the past. C-30.61.024
shows a male patient with a large tumor or growth that covers the left
eye and a significant part of the face. The caption describes him as a
patient whose condition has become incurable due to bad treatment by indigenous
doctors. In C-30.61.027,
we see a male patient with left foot elephantiasis sitting in the hallway
of a mission hospital at Kalikut. Elephantiasis, a complication of filariasis,
occurs in the tropics. C-30.61.032
presents an emaciated, bare-chested patient sitting outdoors in a chair.
The patient suffers from consumption or tuberculosis of the lungs. A debate
continues on the origins of tuberculosis, and it has been argued that
Africa was a "virgin territory" where tuberculosis was concerned, and
that Europeans brought the disease to Africa. This is a disease particularly
associated with congested, unhygienic living conditions and with miners.
In C-30.61.035 and C-30.61.039,
we see lepers in a leprosy home near Calicut and in the leprosy hospital
in Kalikut. Leprosy also occurs largely in tropical regions, and it led
to paralysis, disfigurement and deformity. It is now treatable with antibiotics,
which became available from the 1940s. Before then, lepers could only
be isolated in leper homes. Gender roles could heighten the experience
of illness. For dis-empowered women, leprosy further marginalized them
in society. A-30.12.066
shows a group of lepers in San Ning, China. Leper homes or "colonies"
were often organized village lines, and isolated lepers experienced social
death. In A-30.09.034, Dr.
Hager checks the pulse of a female patient in Hong Kong. In
A-30.08.036, missionary wives visit a protestant cemetery in Macao,
China. Losing a husband far away from home was a painful experience, especially
when the husband, as an evangelist, was probably the reason why the woman
was in China in the first place. Missionaries in China initially suffered
a high mortality. In the nineteenth century, they were also on a frontier
that could be very hostile in times of crises. This made some of the missionaries
in the nineteenth century support "gunboat diplomacy" or the use of coercion
to overcome Chinese resistance to western contact and evangelism.