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

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Walthamstow 1902

[Report of the Medical Officer of Health for Walthamstow]

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At the Conference at Leytonstone, Dr. Thresh remarked that he had
thought medical officers often paid too much attention to drains and
stinks, and too little to the cause of diseases generally. This was
perhaps due to the fact that nuisances could be easily remedied; and
the more common infections were fairly well understood. In the
south-western portion of the county, including West Ham, Barking,
Walthamstow, and Leyton, infantile mortality was very great. The
figures showed that for some reason infants under five years of
age died from two or three times as fast in our large centres of population
as in rural districts and small towns. In other words, over
1,000 infants died annually whose lives ought to be and could be
saved. Not only, however, could these lives be saved, but the measures
taken to strengthen the weak would tend to make others stronger.
They would become from the outset better able to fight the battles of
life, and increased physical strength would tend to a corresponding
increase in mental and moral strength and to a general all-round
improvement. At present we provided infirmaries, hospitals, and
workhouses for the physically weak and diseased, asylums for the weakminded,
and penitentiaries and gaols for the degenerate with a tendency
to crime. All this was very good, but would it not be better to
commence at an earlier stage and try and prevent rather than to palliate
or cure? The unfortunate tendency of the birth-rate to decrease
rendered the subject of infantile mortality of increasingly great national
importance. If England is to assist in the populating of its Colonies, if
it is to continue to maintain its present proud pre-eminence, it must
produce a virile and increasing population.
The following table shews the birth and infantile mortality rates
according to wards:—


Whole Area.St. James Street.High Street.Hoe Street.Wood Street.Northern Ward.
Infantile mortality rate115116.8110.284.6132.7132.4
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