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Posted on September 12th, 2012, by

Illich describes the ”˜epidemics of modern medicine’. Explain what is meant by this and give two examples of this in health today

Epidemics accompanied the development of the mankind as well as other species inhabiting Earth. However, as Illich (1999 p.152) points out, epidemics, which traditionally threatened to the survival of thousands and millions of people, has started to decrease their negative impact, whereas some epidemics such as plague have disappeared. On the other hand, new epidemics have emerged instead of old ones. In this regard, Illich stresses that new epidemics are quite different from old ones (Illich 1999 p.173). To put it more precisely, unlike epidemics of the past, which were mainly provoked by natural factors and spread of epidemics was determined by the under-development of medicine and inability of people to protect themselves from the spread of infectious diseases, modern epidemics are mainly provoked by the lifestyle of modern people and their environment, which may have a negative impact on health of individuals and public health at large.

Epidemics of modern medicine

Epidemics of modern medicine are quite different from epidemics which used to be widely-spread in the past. Illich points out that epidemics were epidemics provoked by the spread of infections diseases, such as tuberculosis and many others (Illich 1999 p.249).

However, in the course of the development of the modern medicine, science and technologies have made a considerable progress preventing the development and spread of epidemics which used to be the major threat to the public health in the past. The vaccination contributed to the improvement of the immunity of modern people minimizing the risk of the spread of infectious diseases and emergence of epidemics.

On the other hand, the modern medicine has proved to be defenceless in face of new challenges, which provoked the emergence of new epidemics, which Illich defines as epidemics of modern medicine (Illich 1999 p.127). In this respect, Illisch stresses that the emergence of new epidemics were mainly provoked by the change in the lifestyle and environment of people. For instance, the consistently deterioration of the environmental situation, the pollution of air and water, consistent climatic changes and other negative trends in the natural environment of people contributed to the emergence of new epidemics provoked by environmental factors. The mutation of viruses and the development of chronic diseases became a norm in the modern world, where environment is polluted, while the immune system of people is unable to cope with new challenges. In fact, the seeming improvement of the immune system of modern people is rather superficial than real because immune system of modern people is too weak to resist to new challenges and the poor environment is the major cause of such a weakness. In addition, people grow up in the environment where they are always protected against various bacteria and potential diseases. Therefore, when they confront a new threat, including epidemics, their immune system turns out to be unprepared to such a threat.

Furthermore, the lifestyle of modern people has changed consistently that provoked the emergence of new epidemics, defined by Illich as epidemics of modern medicine. To put it more precisely, people have changed their lifestyle consistently. They are not as involved in physical activities as they used to in the past. Instead, they lead a sedative lifestyle. In addition, their nutrition has changed consistently. The change of nutrition has provoked the emergence of new epidemics because the quality of food and ingredients have changed compared to the traditional ingredients people got used to consume from the food they took from nature (Cassidy 1980 p.122). For instance, modern people consume a significant amount of processed food that is quite different from organic food they used to consume in the past. As a result, environmental and lifestyle changes led to the emergence of epidemics of modern medicine, such as obesity, cardiovascular diseases, arthritis, diabetes and others.

Obesity and cardiovascular diseases as manifestation of epidemics of modern medicine

Cardiovascular diseases are the primary cause of death of modern people. No wonder, Illich names cardiovascular diseases among the most dangerous epidemics of modern medicine (Audy 1970 p.51). These diseases are provoked by the sedative lifestyle of people and nutrition, which provokes the development of cardiovascular health problems. For instance, food rich in fats is likely to lead to the development of cardiovascular problems. In addition, such food can provoke the development of obesity, which is another widely-spread epidemics of modern medicine. Obesity is closely intertwined with cardiovascular diseases and, what is more, obesity can provoke the development of cardiovascular diseases. At the same time, these two epidemics reveal the weakness and unpreparedness of the modern medicine to cope with new challenges because it is necessary to prevent the development of these health problems, whereas their treatment is not always effective. In addition, to stop these epidemics, it is necessary to change the lifestyle and food culture of modern people that needs mutual efforts from the part of health care system and society.


Thus, epidemics of modern medicine are provoked by the deteriorating environmental situation, lifestyle and nutrition of modern people.

These problems can be solved only when primary causes of the epidemics are eliminated.

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