This paper examines the transformation of public health institutions in the Ottoman Empire and Egypt in the nineteenth century. I argue that the region’s political, financial, and military vulnerability in that period led to a wide-ranging institutional reform movement that also had a great impact on the public health system. As the state centralized, it began to intervene directly in the lives and bodies of its population with the purpose of developing a strong, healthy polity that would be able to compete in the international arena of states. Examples of this intervention included the establishment of professional medical and pharmacy schools and the implementation of compulsory vaccinations, quarantines, and rigorous inspection of food and drugs in the marketplace. Although these measures were often contested and resisted, and despite a perennial shortage of financial resources, the efforts of nineteenth-century Ottomanand Egyptian statesmen and professionals did lay the groundwork for modern public health care in the Middle East.
In 1717 Lady Montague arrived with her husband, the British ambassador, at the court of the Ottoman Empire. She wrote voluminously of her travels. In this selection she noted that the local practice of deliberately stimulating a mild form of the disease through innoculation conferred immunity. She had the procedure performed on both her children. By the end of the eighteenth century, the English physician Edwardjenner was able to cultivate a serum in cattle, which, when used in human vaccination, eventually led to the worldwide eradication of the illness.
When smallpox was almost devastating European peoples in the Eighteenth Century, the Ottoman state applied vaccination. Lady Mary Montague, wife of the British Ambassador to the Ottoman State recorded her remarks on visit to Adernah in 1717, in which she mentioned how less the degree of seriousness of smallpox was in the orient. She knew that vaccination was after this. She got convinced of its usefulness and tried it out with her children. She, also, prescribed it for her own people, but she was accused sorcery and resistance to the will of Allah. She, nevertheless, preserved with her ideas until the Royal family was convinced to use vaccination among its members after preliminary experiments outside the family.
Her countrymen, eventually, accepted and formally used vaccination until this honourable Lady died in 1762. Sixty years later, they made a memoire in her name on her grave, glorifying her generous help to her countrymen by transferring imperial science from Turkey.
Practical application of the Prophetic tradition:
“Slaves of Allah …seek medication” was extensively practiced. Islamic thought has permanently been based on assimilation, participation and creativity.