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“The only thing necessary for these diseases to the triumph is for good people and governments to do nothing.”

Stigmas, Myths and Tuberculosis

16 September 2001

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L R Williams Baglin,
Independent social/medical historian
12 Cheeseman Ave., East Brighton, Vic. Australia 3187

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Stigmatising Others is a basic human reaction when the person feels fearful for their own health or social status. In my opinion the history of Tuberculosis provides possibly the most complete basis for tracing the many ramifications of stigmatization of individuals, of women as a gender, of 'race' and classes of occupation. I have just completed a social history that traces personal health (consumption) reasons for consistent large-scale emigration of British and European individuals to what was often referred to as the sunny colonies 'for the Sake of their Health. The input of medical men fleeing consumption acquired in British 18th and 19th century hospitals to Australian professional and cultural growth is but one small example of how the stigma of 'consumption' affected a nation's history.

The stigma attached to debilitating chronic tuberculosis up to the 1950s crushed many individuals. The addage that 'tuberculosis begets poverty; poverty begets tuberculosis' is a bitter social statement. But the perception of the threat of tuberculosis as much as actual identification of the disease in a family drove vast thousands of people who could afford to hope,to flee to the 'healthy' land of the Australian colonies.

The saddest facet of the story of the stigma of tuberculosis is in the suffering, rejection and usually death of young fertile women. My book only touches on this very significant social syndrome. Some of the factors that evolved in the 19th C. seemingly 'tubercularisation' of Australia, and the way in which Australia has achieved the lowest mortality rate of any contemporary country, could be of value to the projected (wider scale) research.

I have called my book "Sunny Colonies and Secret Clouds"---'to the Colonies for the Sake of their Health'--- 'A Social History: How 'consumption'---Tuberculosis---shaped a Nation's Destiny.' (ISBN 0-646-41182-9 PB)

L R Williams BAGLIN