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Chapter 1 – History of Tropical Medicine, and Medicine in the Tropics

Gordon C. Cook

European doctors practised in tropical countries as early as the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in the English West Indies (the ‘Sugar Islands’), India, the East Indies and later Africa, the western coast of which was widely termed the ‘white man's grave’.[1–3] Many also produced monographs describing their experiences, with an outline of the disease pattern at these various locations. Many infections which now fall under the ‘tropical’ umbrella were widely distributed in northern Europe and northern America during the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries. For example, William Shakespeare (1564–1616) was well aware of malaria in England: ‘he is so shak'd by the burning quotidian tertian that it is most lamentable to behold’ (Henry V, II. i. 123). Thomas Sydenham (1624–1689) successfully used fever-tree bark (containing quinine) in the management of the ‘intermittent fevers’ during the seventeenth century.[4]