Ignaz Semmelweis, an Austrian doctor, was posted in an obstetric (birth) camp in the year 1845 for a period of three years. In those days, one in five (20%) women used to die during childbirth from what was called as Puerperal Fever (fever after childbirth). The medical community and the society at large used to take it as normal. Various causes were attributed to it from immorality to past life transgressions, or simply gods way for replenishing life. Mind you, in those days, the awareness of the germ theory of disease and antibiotics were still decades away in the future.
Semmelweis observed that by simply washing his hands, he could bring down the incidence of Puerperal fever to one in hundred (1%). He went to his seniors, who dismissed his findings and suggestions. He called them murderers and was soon thrown out of the camp. Enraged, he started writing letters to various doctors in Europe. The societies of higher learnings stamped him as mad and a menace to civil society. His wife left him. He was sent to an asylum wherein a cruel twist of fate he lost his life due to an infection from the wounds he incurred from the beatings of the guards.
Loius Pasteur later discovered the germ theory of disease and inferred that by the simple act of washing hands, one reduces the incidence of disease by a percentage much more than medicines, diet and exercise combined. Till date, no act or discovery reduces the burden of disease as much as the simple hand washing.
Loius Pasteur got the Legion of Honour. But the ‘mad’ Ignaz Semmelweis got something far far precious. Today he is known as “The Saviour of Mothers”.