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Int'l conf on Abul Qasim Al-Zahrawi's legacy in medicine & surgery in Dec
Thursday September 5, 2013 3:46 PM, Pervez Bari,

The New Delhi-based Institute of Objective Studies, (IOS), has decided to organize an international conference on "Revisiting Abul Qasim Al-Zahrawi's Legacy in Medicine and Surgery" on December 13-15, 2013 here, to mark the 1000th death anniversary of the pioneer physician and surgeon and highlight his wide-ranging contributions to medicine and surgery.

This was decided at the 27th annual meeting of Governing Council, (GC), of IOS held on August 31 last which was later endorsed by the General Assembly at its meeting on September 1 last. Eminent doctors, surgeons, medical scientists and experts of Tib from within and outside the country are expected to participate in the conference.

The objectives of the international conference are: (i) To commemorate al-Zahrawi's 1000th death anniversary and to highlight his highly original and enduring contributions to the advancement of modern medicine and surgery; (ii) To sensitize scientists, physicians and surgeons, especially those of the younger generation, to the grandeur of Islamic civilization and its role in the shaping of the modern world; (iii) To disseminate awareness and appreciation about al-Zahrawi's outstanding contributions to medicine among physicians, surgeons and other medical and health-related professionals in India; (iv) To offer a contemporary assessment of al-Zahrawi's contributions in the light of modern clinical researches and surgical procedures and (v) To offer a corrective to the Eurocentric bias in the Western discourse on the history of science and medicine

The Sub-themes/Sessions of the conference would be: (a) The relevance of al-Zahrawi's clinical methods and surgical procedures and instruments to modern medicine and surgery; (b) Al-Zahrawi's holistic vision of health and disease and its relevance in the contemporary medical discourse; (c) Al-Zahrawi's contribution to orthopaedics and its contemporary relevance; (d) Al-Zahrawi's contribution to gynaecology and obstetrics and its enduring significance; (e) Al-Zahrawi's enduring contribution to pharmacology; (f) Al-Zahrawi's contribution to cauterization; (g) Al-Zahrawi's contribution to dentistry; (h) Al-Zahrawi's works and Tibb-e-Unani in South Asia and (i) The Prominence of Islamic Perspective in Al-Zahrawi's contributions

It may be mentioned here that for more than five centuries, from 750 to 1258 AD – which is often described as the Golden Age of Islamic science -- the teaching and practice of medicine in Europe was heavily influenced by the works of Al-Razi (d. 925), a l-Zahrawi (d. 1013) and Ibn Sina (d. 1037).

The Indian Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen has remarked that "as leaders of innovative thought in that period in history, Muslim intellectuals were among the most committed globalisers of science and mathematics."

Abul Qasim Khalaf ibn al-Abbas al-Zahrawi (940-1013), known as Albucasis in the West, devoted his entire life, in Madinat al-Zahra, near Cordoba, in Muslim Spain, to medical research and practice. He made an outstanding and original contribution to medicine, surgery, orthopaedics, gynaecology and obstetrics, pharmacology and dentistry. He has been described as the father of modern surgery. More than a thousand years ago, Al-Zahrawi diagnosed and treated many diseases, which came to be rediscovered and confirmed in later centuries. He described what later came to be known as "Kocher's method" for treating a dislocated shoulder, and the "Walcher position" in obstetrics. He described the method of ligaturing blood vessels almost six centuries before the French surgeon Ambroise Pare (1510-1590). He described tuberculosis of the spine, which is now known as Pott's disease (named after the English physician Percivall Pott, 1714-1788). He prescribed mastectomy for breast cancer.

Al-Zahrawi described, for the first time in medical history, a genetic disease transmitted by an unaffected woman to her male children, which is today known as haemophilia. The first description of haemophilia in the West was made by an American physician, Dr John Conrad Otto, in 1803. Al-Zahrawi advised the use of catgut, a thread made from the inner intestinal lining of animals that is capable of dissolving and is acceptable by the body, which is still used in modern surgical procedures. He was the first to use silk sutures to close wounds. He was also the first to use forceps in vaginal delivery, which greatly reduced the incidence of maternal and child mortality. He recommended the use of cotton in surgical dressings, in the control of haemorrhage, and as a padding in the splinting of fractures. Al-Zahrawi was the first to prescribe a surgical procedure for migraine.

A significant aspect of Al-Zahrawi's multifaceted contributions to medicine and surgery relates to the diagnosis and treatment of women's problems and diseases. He instructed and trained midwives and wrote a section on midwifery in his magnum opus, Al-Tasrif. Some of the clinical and surgical devices and instruments designed by him were meant to be used for women.

Al-Zahrawi's classic treatise Kitab al-Tasrif liman ajiza al al-talif is universally acknowledged as the first systematic, comprehensive and illustrated textbook of surgery. The book, which was the result of 50 years of clinical research and practice and runs into 30 volumes, is a veritable encyclopaedia of medicine and surgery. A major part of the book deals with materia medica and the remaining parts with wide-ranging subjects such as anatomy, clinical medicine, dentistry, midwifery and childbirth, bloodletting, the bearing of temperament on disease, the relationship between diet and disease, and the naming and compounding of drugs. Al-Zahrawi described more than 300 diseases and their treatment. The last part of the book --the 30th treatise--deals with surgery.

Al-Zahrawi is credited with having invented a number of clinical and surgical instruments, including the finely pointed scalpel to cut up a swollen foreign body in the ear, eye speculum, fine conjectivital hooks, ophthalmic scissors, respiratory for lachrymal fistulae, fine couching needles, scrappers for teeth, forceps for the removal of broken roots of teeth and for the wiring of teeth, and the use of ox bone for artificial teeth. The operative removal of a ranula and the use of a tonsil guillotine and mouth gag in a tonsillectomy are among the original discoveries of Al-Zahrawi. Al-Tasrif contains more than 200 illustrations and drawings of clinical and surgical devices and instruments, and many of them were designed by him. These include scalpels, probe syringes, obstetric forceps, curettes, hooks, rods, specula, the surgical needle and forceps. These devices and instruments were meant to serve a wide variety of clinical and surgical purposes.

For nearly five centuries, from the 11th to the 16th, al-Zahrawi was the most cited medical authority in Europe and his work on surgery had a profound impact on European physicians and surgeons. Almost all European writers of surgery in the Middle Ages made extensive references to Al-Zahrawi's work and drew upon his clinical insights and surgical innovations. The celebrated French surgeon Guy de Chauliac (d. 1368) made repeated references to Al-Zahrawi in his writings and even appended the Latin translation of his surgical treatise to his book Chirurgia magna. He ranked al-Zahrawi alongside Hippocrates and Galen. Al-Zahrawi was hailed by the eminent Italian surgeon Pietro Argellata (d. 1423) as "the chief of all surgeons". The renowned French surgeon Jaques Delchamps (d. 1588) made frequent references to al-Zahrawi's work in his writings. Al-Zahrawi's surgical treatise remained a standard textbook on the subject in all leading European universities from the 15th to the 18th century. Many of the towering figures in modern science and medicines, including Fallopius, Vesalius, Cardan and Harvey, drew upon the works of al-Zahrawi, al-Razi and Ibn Sina. The renowned historian of science George Sarton, in his monumental An Introduction to the History of Science, has remarked that no single book, other than Al-Tasrif, influenced and revolutionised the art of surgery from the 11th to the 14th century.

W. S. Halsted (1852-1922), the doyen of modern American surgery, credited Al-Zahrawi for performing the first successful thyroidectomy, and remarked, "The extirpation of the thyroid gland for goitre typifies, perhaps better than any other operation, the supreme triumph of the surgeon's art -- which is indeed a very great attribute".

Four aspects of al-Zahrawi's enduring legacy in medicine and surgery are particularly noteworthy. First, he anticipated and pioneered the diagnosis and treatment of several diseases, through highly innovative clinical and surgical methods, centuries before they were rediscovered by European physicians. Second, many of his clinical methods and surgical procedures and instruments continue to be followed, albeit in more sophisticated forms, in modern clinical and surgical practices. Third, there is a growing worldwide recognition of the holistic view of health and disease, which was espoused by al-Zahrawi, in modern medical discourse. Fourth, there is a revival of interest in modern times of some of the novel surgical procedures recommended by al-Zahrawi, such as the treatment of migraine through surgical procedures.

[Photo Caption: The 27th Annual Meeting of the Governing Council of the Institute of Objective Studies underway in New Delhi]

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