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16 October 2014
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Under the Doctor

Link to the non-flash version

The weird, wonderful and often gruesome medical history of Wales comes under the microscope in this new series.

From the devastating onslaught of the plague, via the development of surgical procedures and onto improvements in hygiene, Under the Doctor: A Medical History of Wales will bring every weeping boil and agonising anaesthesia-free operation to life.

Combining interviews with experts and realistic re-enactments of what it was like to live with infectious diseases like cholera, the programme will take viewers on a journey through Welsh health history.

The first programme in a series of four takes a closer look at the various infectious diseases to have hit the nation, starting with the bubonic plague or Black Death, a disease carried on the backs of rats which killed a third of the population of medieval Europe.

At its height in August 1849, cholera was claiming 30 victims per day.

Contributor, professor Dafydd Johnston of Swansea University says that some of the most valuable information about the plague came from Welsh poets who lost their own children to the disease.

"It would destroy whole families and even villages and there seemed to be a sense in their verses that family life itself was under threat," says Prof Johnston.

In the 1800s, another invisible killer hit Wales - cholera - a truly terrifying illness that would kill sufferers rapidly and cruelly. Carried in the water supply, the disease spread quickly from Cardiff up to Merthyr and beyond in 1849, and Under The Doctor unveils in gruesome detail just how devastating cholera was for its first Welsh victim, William Stiff. At its height in August 1849, cholera was claiming 30 victims per day. Something needed to be done and the programme reveals that Dr Henry Payne of Cardiff pushed through radical improvements in the town's water supply to banish the disease.

Next Wales faced up to tuberculosis which has been a thorn in the side of the nation's health for centuries and particularly affected those workers who would frequently come into contact with dust - coal miners and quarrymen.

Contributor Dr Russell Davies from Aberystwyth University talks about the work of philanthropist and businessman David Davies who founded an organisation which provided free care for TB sufferers in the form of the sanatoria. The programme also brings the on-going threat of infectious diseases right up to date with the latest theories on the overdue flu pandemic, and an explanation of the bird flu menace.

Under the Doctor: A Medical History of Wales is a Telesgop production for BBC Wales.

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