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1 July, 2018 00:00 00 AM
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Revenge of a forgotten medical ‘genius’

AFP
Revenge of a forgotten medical ‘genius’
A commemorative plaque for pioneering scientist Ignaz Phillip Semmelweis stands in the garden of the General Hospital (Allgemeines Krankenhaus, AKH) in Vienna on Thursday. AFP PHOTO

VIENNA: It's not an uncommon fate for a pioneering scientist: languishing unrecognised in his time before dying in obscurity. But as his 200th birthday approaches, the life-saving work of a Hungarian obstetrician is finally getting its due, reports AFP.

Decades before Louis Pasteur won widespread acceptance for the germ theory of disease, Ignac Semmelweis was battling his peers to accept what is today medical orthodoxy -- doctors should thoroughly disinfect their hands before treating patients.

Born on July 1 1818, Semmelweis joined the obstetrics department of Vienna's general hospital in 1846 and was immediately struck by the extremely high maternal mortality rate in the wing where student doctors trained: it stood at more than 10 percent, at times going up to almost 40 percent.

By contrast, in the neighbouring wing where midwives trained, the rate stayed under the contemporary average of three percent.

"This disparity troubled Semmelweis enormously and he started a thorough epidemiological study," says Bernhard Kuenburg, president of Vienna's Semmelweis Foundation.

In 1847, the penny dropped when a colleague died of septicaemia after carrying out an autopsy: Semmelweis surmised that dead bodies must hold invisible but potentially deadly "particles".

"At the time, medical students went directly from an autopsy to assist with a labour without disinfecting their hands," Kuenburg told AFP.

With soap not being enough to fix the problem, Semmelweis imposed a more rigorous regime of hand-washing for five minutes with a harsh chlorinated lime solution.

With this "very simple method" Semmelweis slashed the mortality rate "to almost zero," Kuenburg says.

But instead of plaudits, Semmelweis suffered the wrath of the grandees of Vienna's medical fraternity and in 1849 his contract was not renewed.

"The self-estimation of the doctors was very high back at this time. Of course they were offended because they didn't like the idea that they were guilty of causing this terrible mortality rate," Kuenburg says.

 

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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