29.01.2019 - UNESCO Havana

New inscription on Cuba’s National Register of UNESCO Memory of the World Programme highlights importance of preservation and access to scientific documentary heritage

The documentary collection Prescription Logbook of the Matanzas Pharmaceutical Museum was inscribed on Cuba’s National Register of the Memory of the World Programme on 24 January. The ceremony awarding the inscription certificate took place at the Museum, the former Farmacia Francesa of Dr Ernesto Triolet.

The recently inscribed collection, composed of 61 volumes recording over half a million prescriptions written from August 1873 until 16 January 1964 at the “French Pharmacy” and its predecessors, the San Rafael and Nuestra Señora de Regla pharmacies, constitutes a source of information of extraordinary scientific value.

Museum Director Marcia Brito declares that the prescriptions registered have often constituted over the last six decades a valuable input for academics and students of Medicine and Pharmacy, as well as specialists from national pharmaceutical companies.

The official explains that particularly in the nineties, when the shortage of medicine made it necessary to revitalize natural and traditional medicine in the country, the detailed description of formulas written in the late 19th and early 20th centuries made it possible to reproduce these preparations in the industry or make new compounds relieving the ailments of the local population.  

Each Volume registers on a daily basis a consecutive number, the last name of the doctor who ordered the prescription, its exact preparation, the price and the day it was made. Sometimes the patient’s name and sickness are also registered.

Accordingly, by consulting the collection it is possible to analyze the evolution of medical-pharmaceutical sciences from the end of the 19th century until more than six decades of the 20th century. Its study allows us to identify the transition from pharmaceutical practices based on the use of natural elements, to practices requiring chemical and synthetic products that set the basis for the industrial preparation of medicine.  

Its use also allows a more in-depth study of the cycles of epidemics, as well as chronic and endemic diseases.

Every morning, the Pharmaceutical Museum of Matanzas puts on display one of those priceless volumes belonging to the 19th or 20th century and opens it to the page corresponding to that day and month.

The collection may also be digitally accessed thanks to the project jointly implemented in 2015 by the National Council for Cultural Heritage of Cuba (CNCP) and the Tropical Research Ecological Exchange (TREE) in Florida. Thanks to the project, other valuable Museum collections were digitalized, such as the scientific library of the Triolet family and the thousands of labels specifically ordered to identify medicines produced in the French Pharmacy.

The documentary collection “Prescription Logbooks of the Matanzas Pharmaceutical Museum” is the fifteenth Cuban collection inscribed on the National Register of the Memory of the World Programme and the first to deal with a scientific topic.

Participating in the inscription ceremony were officials from the National Council for Cultural Heritage, the Provincial Departments of Culture and Heritage, the Cuban National Commission for UNESCO, the National Committee of the Memory of the World Programme, the UNESCO Regional Office for Culture in Latin America and the Caribbean, and Museum workers and collaborators.           

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