An overnight flight took me to Budapest, followed by a 3 hour drive to Debrecen, in eastern Hungary. This is a city that I have strong associations with. Its university hosts the Hungarian School of Public Health, led by my good friend Professor Roza Adany. I was privileged to play a role in its establishment in the early 1990s, working with Roza’s predecessor, Ferenc Bojan, who was tragically killed in a traffic accident. A reminder that the statistics we work with are the sum of a vast amount of human suffering.
My main reason for being here was to speak at a satellite symposium on health of the Roma people. This was linked to a major health promotion conference that had been taking place in Budapest earlier in the week. The Debrecen School of Public Health has played a leading role in working with the Roma community, training a new generation of Roma health professionals and conducting research that makes their plight more visible.
The rest of the weekend was spent working with my colleague Karolina Kosa. She has been working with a local Roma community who live in appalling circumstances, in derelict buildings with no water or electricity supply and with infestation by rodents. They are now threatened with eviction and Karolina and I were working on a paper that assessed the impact of this and possible alternative measures on their health and welfare, as well as the impact on the responsible agencies.
Once again, there was a reminder of how the shadow of history falls across this region. The following day was the 50th anniversary of the 1956 Hungarian uprising. This had rekindled strong emotions, not least because the Hungarian Prime Minister had recently admitted having lied, leading to large protests outside parliament. As a consequence, Budapest was eerily silent, with the major roads closed off. Fortunately, the next day’s events passed off relatively peacefully.