Medical Geography: Definition, History, Scope and importance of Medical Geography

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Medical geography and medicine are disciplines that are closely related. Medical geography is concerned with population health issues and spatial variation in the causes, distribution, prevention and treatment of diseases. While other health professions are particularly about the health challenge to improve the development and longevity of human life. Medical geography is interested in all of those but relating the situations with spatial processes.

Health and diseases issues in medical geography could affect both plants and animals as points of deliberation; however, the primary interest is the human population. In the event where the spread of an epidemic or diseases affect the sources of human livelihood with consequential transmission of certain diseases that affect man; it is nevertheless studied therefore formed from other disciplines between geography and medicine.

Medical Geography Definition

Medical geography is a branch of geography that helps us understand the problems of diseases in the environment, the spread of diseases, the sources of diseases, the causes and area of diseases spread and how these diseases relate to the environment. Medical geography is also interested in the factors and origin of these diseases since geography is essentially interested in spatial interaction is also called health geography. Medical geography is also interested in man and his environment and the concept why man and his environment as the matter of life and death. Medical geography is interested in diseases in terms of environmental factors that help in the spread of these diseases from one geographical region to another.

Who is a Medical Geographer?

A medical geographer is someone who is interested in the problems of human adjustment to the environment, he is equally interested in the evolution of the physical economic, the human elements of the geographical environment that affects-

  • The distribution of spatial and seasonal incidences of epidemic and endemic
  • The morbidity (spread of diseases) and the mortality of the host (man) and his specific natural environment

Scope of Medical Geography

Medical geography is an area of medical research that incorporates geographical techniques to explain health and diseases. The discipline also studies the impacts of climate on health and situation. It provides an understanding of health problems and improves the health of the people based on geographic factors. For instance, certain diseases situation are peculiar with certain geographical locations e.g the rain forest environment which is swampy will have diseases type that are not found in the savannah environment. Water logged areas are prone to malaria as opposed to high land or relatively dry areas that consumes water. For instance, research has shown that consumers of water with high chloride content have few cavities compared to children who do not grow in such areas.

Another area of medical geography is the general condition of the optimum development of man on the earth surface as a basis for general conditions of diseases coverage. One important person in medical geography J. M May (1950) who described medical geography as a geography of disease which is concerned essentially with the investigation of the relationship between the diseases and environmental factors.

History of Medical Geography

The history of medical geography began since the time of the Greek doctor,Hippocrates (5th-4th centuries BCE), during this period, people began to study the effect of location on human health. For instance, early medicine studied the differences in diseases experienced by people living at high versus low elevation. It was easily understood that those living in lowlands areas near waterways would be more prone to malaria than those at higher elevations or in drier areas which have low humidity. Though the reasons for these variations were not fully understood at the time, the study of this spatial distribution of disease is the beginnings of medical geography.

This field of geography did not gain recognition not until the mid-1800s though when cholera gripped London. As high number of people became ill, they believed they were becoming infected by vapours escaping the ground. A physician in London by the name of John Snow thought that, if he could locate the source of the toxins infecting the population they and cholera could be contained.

As part of his study, Snow drew maps showing the homes of people who had died of cholera and the locations of water pumps throughout London. After examining these locations, he found a cluster of unusually high deaths near a water pump on Broad Street. He then concluded that the water coming from this pump was the reason people were becoming sick and he seek for permission from the authorities to remove the handle of the pump as to stop people from drinking the same water. After he removed the handle of the pump, the number of cholera deaths dramatically reduced.

Snows use of mapping to find the source of disease is the earliest and most famous example of medical geography. Since after he conducted his research, geographic techniques have found their place in a number of other medical applications.

Areas of Medical Geography

  • Geography of health
  • Geography of hunger
  • Geography of death

Some other studies are interested in incidences of spread of other diseases such as incidence of malaria, cholera, environmental sanitation, natural hazard (drought, and famine), and distribution of medical facilities etc.

Importance of Medical Geography

We may identify the need for medical geography in a community with low standard of living where the environment dominantly influences the behaviour of people or where the environment favours the spread of diseases type for example in Niger Delta , they have the spread of spillage which has led to the pollution of the environment. This also has taken parts of agricultural farmland that would have been used for farming activities and furthermore, it has led to the destruction of aquatic animals and plants. These are the reasons why we are interested in medical geography.

Ecology and Diseases

Empirical evidence has shown the close association between environmental condition and various kinds of diseases for example, our mapping techniques have tried to show the nature of these association, while our behavioural approach has tried to identify the causal correlation between the environment (physical environment) that comes into play in the ecology of diseases.

2 thoughts on “Medical Geography: Definition, History, Scope and importance of Medical Geography”

  1. The piece is very educative. It goes along way to helping researchers and students getting clear understanding of what medical geography is all about.


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