There was an expectant buzz of excitement around the crowded Manson Lecture Theatre at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine on Wednesday 8th September 1993.
On the bench in front of the audience stood the society’s ceremonial cast iron water pump. There was standing room only as Professor Paul Fine, the Inaugural President, opened the first annual Pumphandle Lecture of the newly formed John Snow Society. This meeting commemorated the 139th anniversary of what may be the most famous action in the history of public health – the removal by John Snow of the handle of the water pump in Broad Street which was at the centre of the cholera epidemic in Soho in 1854.
The guest speaker was Dr Nick Ward of the World Health Organization Polio Eradication Task Force, whose title was ‘Global Polio Eradication: a call for action’.
Dr Ward gave an inspiring and erudite speech in which he discussed the history and implications of the smallpox eradication campaign and the considerable achievements to date of the polio campaign, that there has not been a single case of polio reported from the Americans in the past two years. He did not shrink from discussing the problems that remain if the disease is to be eradicated elsewhere, in particular the cost and poor infrastructures. He identified practical achievable targets and measures for the road ahead.
Dr Ros Stanwell-Smith, secretary of the society, gave the vote of thanks, after which the President ceremoniously removed the handle of the pump thus bringing the meeting to an end.
A large group then moved on to the John Snow pub in Broadwick Street, Soho, for the rest of the evening. Plans were laid for future meetings – including the Blessed Chloroform lecture (to be arranged by anaesthetist members of the society and to be held on or about 7th April to commemorate John Snow’s administration of chloroform to Queen Victoria at the birth of Prince Leopold).