Essay No. 65:
Prevention Is Better Than Cure: In ancient China, there was a beautiful system of medicine in vogue. A well-to-do man used to pay his medical officer a fixed payment as long as he was in health. But whenever the patient became ill, the payments were suspended until health had been restored again. In other words, the patient paid the doctor for keeping him in health, not for curing him when in disease.
This seems startling to one accustomed to the modern system, but in reality, has a great deal of common sense to recommend it. The principle at issue is seen in the proverb “A stitch in time saves nine.” Troubles and sickness spring from small beginnings and nine their causes are operating before the symptoms manifest themselves.
Nowadays we do have a good deal of preventative medicine. Vaccination, as well as various inoculations, are all evidence of treatment to prevent disease, rather than cure it. But instead of such obvious instances, we may mention a number of rules of good living which are broken, with the result that illness and disease follow.
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They are; living in bad houses, eating insufficient or the wrong type of food, drinking alcoholic liquors, smoking tobacco, keeping late hours, working under conditions which create strain and fatigue. Many of those cannot be avoided, because they are the accompaniments of poverty and inequality, and not in the power of the sufferer to alter.
But some faulty ways of living can be corrected, both by the will of the individual and by the help of social services. Obviously it is better to improve conditions of living by attacking those abuses, and so prevent ill-health than to wait for the ill-health to appear and then spend money on medical services.
This principle may be applied to other departments of life. The first signs of moral decay are slight and apt to escape notice. But, if neglected, the next step is a complete breakdown of moral character, leading to evil conduct and crime. Much of this could be averted by wise education, by that “stick in time” which will save all the future expensive machinery of reform.