The nineteenth century achievements of Louis Pasteur, Robert Koch, and others, in developing the ‘germ theory’ and elucidating the mechanisms of microbial infection, led to an era in which the causative agents of the major ailments of human society were identified. This new science of microbiology led to vaccines and antimicrobial compounds designed to target these specific agents of disease. There is no doubt that this reductionist approach to infectious disease has had a profoundly positive impact on public health during the past one hundred years. However, global health gains have been far from equitable, and to focus solely on the biological agents of specific disease, at the expense of the environmental, social and economic conditions in which they flourish, is to blind ourselves to better ways to achieve better health.
In his talk, Professor Taylor draws on his own experiences of environmental interventions to tackle waterborne disease, in Europe, Africa, and the Caribbean. He demonstrates their often complex causes, and shows how specialist and local knowledge can be brought together to tackle a problem that has outlived its time.