Saturday, December 16, 2006

Arrived at Heathrow Terminal 4 on Wednesday after a flight from Tel Aviv of over 5 hours. Given the consistency of my experiences here over recent weeks, it was little surprise to be told that we had to wait 40 minutes for the steps to be brought to the plane! I’m beginning to think it might be easier to take the Eurostar to Paris and fly from there when I travel (I’m actually writing this a few days later, by which time the Christmas rush has hit my favourite terminal – amazing how the Christmas holidays appear without any warning – and the news reports show queues snaking into the car parks – a marked contrast to Tel Aviv where it took less than 5 minutes to get through security, showing that security and endless queues don’t have to go together, but only if, unlike BAA, you can actually manage an airport).
This afternoon is one of the highlights of my year. The students on my course on Issues in Public Health have to present a strategy to prevent cardiovascular disease in another European country in the most informative and, especially, entertaining way possible. The goals are to get people from different cultures to understand where they each come from, to learn about somewhere else, and above all to realise that public health does not have to be boring (OK, I know it often is, but not what I do).
Once again, the students excelled themselves. The Austrian strategy was in the form of the TV quiz programme “The weakest link”. The Portuguese one had a football theme, with the group clad in Portuguese football shirts and a referee who shoed the yellow or red card to team members who persisted in smoking and eating unhealthy food. The Estonian group created an “Estonian Rhapsody” in which the elements of their strategy were accompanied by musical extracts from Queen. The French group offered a demonstration of healthy cooking featuring an extremely passionate (in all senses of the word) television cook (I wonder who she was modelled on – Nigella) supported by Zinidine Zidane, and accompanying by an attempt to bribe the judges with wine a cheese (an approach taken, in various forms, by several teams). Norway had an integrated programme featuring walking longships (instead of the more usual walking school buses, in which a children join a growing line walking past their houses to school) as well as a system of food labelling in which healthy foods get a Viking stamp while unhealthy ones get a troll stamp. The goal is to maximise the Viking: Troll ratio in shops! The Albanian strategy was built on the Matrix films, combating attacks from secret agents representing fat, tobacco, and alcohol. The Ukrainian strategy began with a health minister clearly modelled on Borat inviting the audience to a lard eating festival while complaining about public health experts who tried to stop vodka drinking and unsafe sex. His speech was interrupted by an ivasion of the stage by other students in orange boiler suits who launched the second Ukrainian revolution, in this case against cardiovascular disease, which would provide for oranges to be eaten by all. However the winner was the Bulgarian group. Who staged an e-mail exchange between a wealthy Russian magnate and a Bulgarian public health doctor he had met at a conference. His attempts to woo her involved offers of money, a diamond (which she gave to the local orphanage, hospitals (which she also rejected, pointing out that Bulgaria has enough hospitals already), and eventually €10,000 to all unhealthy Bulgarians. They finally agreed that he would support the construction of a public health institute (he offered 100 of them) and they finally met. Yet, as they embraced against a background entitled “the agony and the ecstasy” he collapsed with a heart attack!
I know the judges (Stig Pramming and Christine Hancock from the
Oxford Health Alliance and my colleague Dina Balabanova (purely a coincidence that one of the judges is Bulgarian!) were really impressed, not only at the creativity and imagination shown by the students but also because, underneath the entertainment, they had really got to know the health problems and policy responses in the countries allocated to them. Who said public health is boring!

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