Selling Dreams - Early advertising in Singapore
Keep the doctor away
Medical advertising flourished in Singapore in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. From medical halls and dispensaries to cure-alls and supplements, the lack of advertising regulation until the 1950s ensured that ads were able the make all manner of medical claims to capture patients and consumers in Singapore’s growing and increasingly health-conscious population.
The earliest forms of healthcare on the island were centred on private practices – Western and Eastern medicine alike were options available to the general public. Europeans naturally favoured Western practices, while the Asian population initially preferred traditional medicine provided for by local clan associations, private practices, and other traditional medical practitioners. Government-run clinics and hospitals in early Singapore were slow to be introduced until the European Seamen’s Hospital (later rebuilt as Tan Tock Seng Hospital) was opened in 1845, what passed as a hospital on the island was no more than a poorly maintained shed that had to be rebuilt several times over.
As a result, doctors on the island set up so-called private hospitals, and advertised for them in newspapers, offering all manner of medical services, including the selling of varied pharmaceuticals. However, private hospital care, no matter how reliable, was exorbitantly expensive, and few could afford to seek treatment. As such, over-the-counter medication was extremely popular, and self-medication was the norm for even severe medical cases, providing medical advertisers with a captive audience.