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Chapter 8 Page 4
The Conventional Medical Paradigm
The sulfonamides were enormously popular. In December of 1936, the New York Times reported that Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s son had recovered from a near fatal streptococcal infection after successful treatment with sulfa drugs. Six years later, Winston Churchill announced to the English public that he had been cured of pneumonia by sulfa drugs. In their field kits, soldiers in World War II were given packs containing sulfa drug powder, which they were encouraged to pour into any open wound to fend off infection. The public variously referred to the sulfa drugs as “magic bullets” and “miracle” drugs during the period from 1936 to 1946 because their healing properties became widely known and celebrated.
Although advances in hygienic practices undoubtedly led to the saving of tens of thousands of lives during this period, Seema Jayachandran, Adriana Lleras-Muney, and Kimberly V. Smith, in their article “Modern Medicine and the 20th Century Decline in Mortality: Evidence on the Impact of Sulfa Drugs,” conclude that “sulfa drugs were responsible for a 24 to 36 percent decline in maternal mortality, a 17 to 32 percent decline in pneumonia mortality, and a 52 to 65 percent decline in scarlet fever mortality between the pre-1937 and post-1937 periods. In addition, we find larger declines in urban areas, consistent with historical evidence that sulfa drugs diffused more rapidly in cities than in rural areas.”
The stark reality that pills containing sulfa drugs were responsible for wiping out a number of illnesses that were previously considered difficult to cure or incurable led to a popular reaction that galvanized public interest and support for the protection of the institutions responsible for creating these “miracles.” There were few positions of greater prominence and public acclaim than to be involved in the new pharmacological sciences. If sulfa could perform so ably, why not other drugs?
At once the public became intoxicated with the notion that disease itself was capable of being eliminated from the world if only the right agents were synthesized in the big pharmaceutical labs. Natural remedies began to look anachronistic against the new science of pharmacology. Science based medicine became all the rage.