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What does the biography of Duncan Forbes MBE (1873–1941), Medical Officer of Health for Brighton (1908–1938), reveal about managing pandemics?

journal contribution
posted on 2023-06-10, 04:04 authored by Thomas Khan-White, Benjamin Whiston, Maxwell CooperMaxwell Cooper
Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and the national lockdowns of 2020/2021 illustrate how modern public health systems are founded on empirical evidence and contemporary understanding of disease transmission. Duncan Forbes was one of the earliest sanitarians in Britain to propose and implement a new understanding of infectious disease control. Starting his early career in Manchester and Cambridge, his eventual tenure as Brighton's longest-serving medical officer of health (MOH) left an indelible mark by challenging the entrenched tradition of terminal disinfection and by devising his “Brighton methods” for the care of tubercular patients. Forbes led Brighton's public health responses during World War I and the 1918/1919 “Spanish” influenza pandemic. Forbes also strove to improve health and housing in Brighton. His views on limiting access to contraception on the grounds of eugenics are also significant. Analysis of Forbes' work then allowed a discussion of both his legacy and of the applicability of his experiences to our own in tackling COVID-19. Forbes undeniably had a great influence in shaping modern public health practice in Britain and his challenges as MOH bear many similarities, as well as stark differences, to today's experience of COVID-19.


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  • Published

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  • Submitted version


Journal of Medical Biography




SAGE Publications

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  • Primary Care and Public Health Publications

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