Medicine In Mexico

[ Latin American Studies ]

Medicine In Mexico

From Aztec Herbs to Betatrons

By Gordon Schendel

With the collaboration of José Alvarez Amézquita and Miguel E. Bustamante

The history of medicine and public health and welfare in Mexico through the mid-twentieth century.



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6 x 9 | 372 pp.

ISBN: 978-0-292-74163-8

A witch doctor casting an evil spell in a steaming jungle village; a young medical-school graduate cleaning a machete wound in a rat-infested thatched hut; a world-renowned scientist doing research in Mexico City—all were part of the mid-twentieth century medical scene in Mexico, a country of great cultural, socioeconomic, and geographical contrasts.

Gordon Schendel, in collaboration with Dr. José Alvarez Amézquita and Dr. Miguel E. Bustamante, relates the history of medicine and public health and welfare in Mexico. This absorbing story begins with a great indigenous culture; continues with Spanish Colonial rule, the unproductive first century of independence from Spain, and the years of revolution; then concentrates on the modern nation.

The Aztec civilization evidenced a knowledge of pharmacology and the fundamentals of health far in advance of contemporary European societies. And almost one hundred years before the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock, New Spain boasted a comprehensive "Public Health Administration" and a hospital system that served all classes. However, throughout Mexico's three centuries as a Spanish colony and its first century of independence, millions of its citizens suffered abysmal poverty. Thus when the Republic of Mexico entered its post-Revolutionary era, the majority of its citizens were plagued by superstition, illiteracy, malnutrition, and the other "diseases of the poor."

The principal part of this story tells how Mexico attacked these problems, and how in a few short years it became a leader and a model for all Latin America in the fields of medicine and public health and welfare. The book is based on Mr. Schendel's research and observations and on his many interviews with doctors and govemment officials. It will be of interest to the medical profession and to concerned laymen of all nationalities, for it illustrates how a dynamic nation met challenges that all countries of the world, developed and underdeveloped, must face.

Notes on Source Material
List of Illustrations

Part One: Aztec Medicine
1. Status of the Aztec Civilization
2. The Role of Mythology in Medicine
3. Aztec Public Health and Welfare
4. Aztec G.P.’s and Specialists
5. Aztec Herbs and Therapies
6. Legacies from Aztec Medicine

Part Two: Spanish Colonial Medicine
7. Medical Progress in New Spain
8. Centuries of Killer Epidemics
9. The Last Years of the Colony

Part Three: Modern Mexican Medicine
10. The Problem of Quacks and “Witches”
11. Rural Medicine—With Hazards
12. Fomenting Proper Hygiene
13. Moving In on Malnutrition
14. Improving Poor Environments
15. Combating Tropical Diseases
16. Colorful Mexican Institutions
17. The Status of Medicine in Mexico
18. Medical Research and Discoveries
19. Facing the Future


Gordon Schendel (1905–1982), a former United States journalist, was the author of several biographies and more than five hundred magazine articles.

Dr. José Alvarez Amézquita, a prominent Mexico City surgeon, was Secretary of Public Health and Assistance throughout the López Mateos administration (1958–1964).

Dr. Miguel E. Bustamante (1898–1986), who had a distinguished record as a career public health officer in Mexico and abroad, was Mexico’s Undersecretary of Public Health from 1958 to 1964.

The reader cannot close Schendel's book without realizing how deeply committed the medical profession is to the cultural progress of Mexico and its sense of purpose.
Journal of Latin American Studies