London's Pulse: Medical Officer of Health reports 1848-1972

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Walthamstow 1962

[Report of the Medical Officer of Health for Walthamstow]

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Of the then non-notifiable diseases no estimate can be made but
there were 130 deaths from diarrhoea and enteritis, 32 from measles
and 19 from whooping cough. Over one third (503) of deaths from all
causes (1,456) were in children under five years of age. In 1961
only 27 children died under the age of 5 and 16 of these deaths were
in the first year of life. Only one death was classified under
infantile diarrhoea compared with 116 in 1911 when Dr. Clarke reported:
"Deathsfrom summer diarrhoea in infants are largely the
result of an unclean food supply and unfortunately there is no
standard for cleanliness of milk, although, in this respect,
more important in relation to infant feeding in the third
quarter of the year than a standard of quality.
With the disappearance of the cleanly milkmaid, her place
has been taken by the farm hand absolutely ignorant of the
most rudimentary methods of scientific cleanliness, with the
result that, at its source, a process of defilement of the
milk takes place, which is continued right up to its
destination. Delivered at the homes of the poor, into dirty or,
at best, partially clean vessels, and stored in unsuitable
places, the milk undergoes, under the influence of the
summer heat, still further pollution, so that by the time
baby receives it as food it teams with decomposing bacteria
whose products are poisonous."
While sharing his regret at the disappearance of "the cleanly
milkmaid" one feels that Dr. Clarke would have approved whole-heartedly
of the pasteurisation of milk, the supply of pure dried milks at
welfare centres, and the enforcement of the Pood Hygiene Regulations,
in connection with which the Public Health Inspectorate made over
2,000 inspections of food premises in Walthamstow during 1961. Pood
poisoning, which had shown a progressive increase since the last war
has, during the past year or two, begun to fall.
Moving on ten years, to 1921, we find that little change has
taken place in the size of Walthamstow; the population has increased
by only 2,000 to 127,441. The birth-rate had fallen to 21.7 and the
death-rate was exceptionally low at 9.5 (England and Wales 12.1,
London 12.4). Real progress had been shown, however, in reducing the
Infant Mortality Rate from 108.4 in 1911 to 61.4 per thousand in 1921.
Infectious Disease was still rampant; an outbreak of scarlet
fever affected 983 persons, but the death rate from notifiable
infectious diseases, other than tuberculosis, had fallen to about one
third of the 1911 figure. Dr. Clarke comments:-
"Deaths from all these diseases are theoretically
preventable, and no-one should die except from senile decay,
but we have not yet attained that ideal."
It must be admitted that neither have we, but we have made some
progress towards it, the expectation of life at birth being now 68.1
years (73.9 for women) instead of 55.6 and 59.6 as it was in 1921.