Each year the Archives runs a module on the History of Medicine which allows students access to the collections to create a project around the sources they find. One student who participated this year was Nadya Ali Ebrahim Ali Alfardan, who researched the history of Syphilis using the records of the Ambrose King Centre. We are gateful to Nadya for taking time to contribute to our blog, here is what she wrote about the module and her research –
The Student Selected Component (SSC) modules are an integral part of the Barts and the London Medical School curriculum, where the medical student has the ability to choose medical topics of personal interest. As such, the first SSC I personally chose was an Introduction to the History of Medicine, within which I chose to research Syphilis at the London Hospital (now Royal London Hospital), in the early twentieth century.
There were different factors that drew me to this title. The first being the Royal London Hospital (RLH). The RLH, is not only the hospital which I will be spending 5 years of my education in, but also is a hospital with a rich history. It was the first voluntary hospital established to provided free medical care to the poor it in the east of London, serving the rapidly growing, and comparatively impoverished population there.
Another factor was the area, whose rich history only heightened my interest. Given the area neighbors the London Docklands and is in the east of the city, it was a destination for immigrants, such as Jews, and members of the working class.
Finally, the main factor that drew me this research topic was Syphilis. It was a very prevalent disease in the early twentieth century in comparison to present day, where it is estimated that a fifth of the population might have been infected at any one time. This shift makes it interesting to look into how the disease was viewed, diagnosed, and treated. Additionally, given it is a sexually transmitted disease, it was highly stigmatized, reflected in works of art from the time.
My first step in researching this topic was reading books from the early twentieth century, housed in the archives, to establish the theoretical side of medicine at the time, and how they envisioned the disease. With reading, I found that the area that I wanted to be my main focus was treatments, as it had been the most dynamic in terms of change over time. From this I found the main treatments used at the time were; Mercury, Bismuth, Salvarsan (606) and Neosalvarsan (914) as well as antiseptics.
The diagnostic methods were roughly the same as today, using serology, microbiology and examinations of the physical symptoms.
The second step was looking at the practical aspect of medicine and how they applied the theory I had read. To do so, I looked at patient records to find patients that presented at different stages of syphilis, then look at their specific patient case files in the archives to see how and why they were treated as such.
Finally, the use of journal articles helped complete the picture of the development of treatments and their use around that time.
Nadya Alfardan is 21 and from Bahrain, she has a BSc in Biomedical Science from the University of Brighton.