lunes, 31 de marzo de 2008

A beautiful chapter in the history of medicine

This is one of the most beautiful chapters in the history of medicine, but of course, as it was done by a Spanish doctor, one mainly unknown, even by spaniards.
Balmis Expedition was a three year mission to the Americas led by Dr Francisco Javier de Balmis with the aim of giving thousands the smallpox vaccine. He set off from La Coruña on 30 November 1803. It may be considered the first international sanitary expedition in history.
King Charles IV of Spain supported his royal doctor Balmis, since his daughter María Luísa had suffered the illness. The expedition occurred on the Maria Pita ship and carried 22 orphan boys (8 to 10 years old) as successive carriers in "vivo" of the vaccine, Balmis, a deputy surgeon, two assistants, two first-aid practitioners, three nurses, and Isabel López de Gandalia, the rectoress of Casa de Expósitos a La Coruña orphanage.
The course
The mission took the vaccine to the Canary Islands, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Mexico, the Philippines and China. The ship carried also scientific instruments and translations of the Historical and Practical Treatise on the Vaccine by Moreau de Sarthe to be distributed to the local vaccine commissions to be founded.
Puerto Rico
The local population was already inoculated with a vaccine carried from the Danish colony Saint Thomas.
The expedition divided at La Guayra.
José Salvany, the deputy surgeon, went toward today's Colombia and the Viceroyalty of Peru (Venezuela, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, and Bolivia). They took seven years and the toils of the voyage brought death to Salvany (Cochabamba, 1810).
Balmis went to Caracas and later to Havana. The local poet Andrés Bello wrote an ode to Balmis.
Mexico (1805)
In Mexico, Balmis took 25 orphans to maintain the vaccine during the crossing of the Pacific.
They received help from the church. Balmis dismissed back to Mexico the gross of the expedition and went further to China.
Balmis landed on Macau and went also to Canton.
On his way back to Spain, Balmis convinced the authorities of Saint Helena (1806) to take the vaccine.
The discoverer of the vaccine Edward Jenner himself wrote "I don’t imagine the annals of history furnish an example of philanthropy so noble, so extensive as this.”

(With information from Wikipedia).

If you want to know better the Philippine part, you can read here

Further reading about it,