Colleges of royal physicians and isolation hospitals to control public hygiene in Chile from 1879 to 1920

This article investigates the emergence of two institutions for the control of public hygiene in Chile between 1879 and 1920: colleges of royal physicians and isolation hospitals using the case of smallpox in La Araucania, a region located in the South of Chile. We cover the characteristics and context of these institutions that allowed the State of Chile to address the problems of public hygiene and to prompt health professionals to professionalize the practice of medicine. The liberal positivist state of the late nineteenth century understood that the issue of hygiene was not only a matter of individual responsibility but had a social, public, and environmental dimension. People practiced hygiene alongside the existence of hygienic and anti-hygienic environments. Therefore, hygiene, the royal colleges of physicians, health records, isolation hospitals, doctors, and vaccinators are studied. All of these components of the health care system of the time were in permanent tension with the central government authorities due to the insufficient resources provided by the state for the care of infected patients with smallpox. The study follows a qualitative methodology with a descriptive historiographic design. We used archival primary and secondary sources available in Chile and Germany. The results show that the presence of smallpox appeared ferociously in South-Central Chile in the second half of the 19th century and remained in La Araucania until the first half of the 20th century. The extent to which smallpox spread, spawning fear and insecurity in people of different social classes, had as one of its leading causes the precarious conditions of health and hygiene of the population.

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