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John Middleton's Presidential Statement as part of the Opening Ceremony, Erice, Sicily, May 26th 2019

Publication date: 19.06.2019
Author: John Middleton

Friends…Romans… ? Colleagues… lend me your ears….

I bring you greetings from Shakespeare’s county, Warwickshire, in the Midlands of England, and from my University, Wolverhampton, in area called the Black Country, the cradle of the industrial revolution and the place where I worked for most of my professional life. I bring a welcome from a new ASPHER member, Chester University, who are active in the international field of public health, in relation to trade: a vital area for us all. I also bring greetings from the United Kingdom, Faculty of Public Health, the UK professional standard setting body for public health, of which I am still President for two more weeks.

On a lighter note, I am reminded of the Monty Python sketch: ‘What have the Roman’s ever done for us?‘

“‘All right, but apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, a fresh water system, and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?‘

‘Brought peace.’”

There is no civilisation without public health.

At the time Mark Anthony had come to bury Caesar, his political opponent Cicero, said ‘Salus populi suprema lex esto’ – the health of the people is the highest law. And this tenet survives around the world as a motto for many public authorities in the UK, the US, Australia and more. It is something I believe- and I am sure you all do to. It is why I believe our work through ASPHER on law, rights, ethics, and values is so important.

Public health is international. What Paris breathes today, London will breathe tomorrow. We cannot tackle the vectors of infection or chemical pollution in our countries, on our own. And we cannot tackle the vectors of epidemic overconsumption and non-communicable disease in isolation either- ten companies control most of the food we eat. Add then Big tobacco, Big Fossil Fuel, Big Gambling, Big Alcohol. These require our collected international effort to regulate, control, and tax… if we are to secure the health of our people and fairer more equal societies.

And public health is planetary health. We cannot have healthy people in a sick environment.

Public health is a collective effort. My country seems determined to crash out of the European Union. Many countries are entranced or enslaved by populist thinking. In this time of division, we the public health community need to be united. The evil that men do, and it is mainly men, surrounds us. Epidemic hatred, prejudice, mistrust, easy resort to violence and intolerance, global exploitation of people in unhealthy production, and as consumers, taking far more than we need. And both of these burdens fall unfairly on the poor within countries, and between rich and poor countries.

Clinicians can save lives one by one. Healing individuals. We in public health have the skills and knowledge to save lives in millions. We have it in our capacity to heal societies.

Public health is the best job in the world. It is never boring, no two days are ever the same; but it can be dangerous: persuading, engaging, communicating are essential parts of what we do; managing conflict is a central part of what our work entails.

In this fractured and divided world, it is essential that our profession is united. We can have our differences, but they must be in private, and we must be a united front in public. We can disagree–but we should never be disagreeable. We must speak well of each other and we must support each other.

I am honoured to be elected your President for the next two years, and I pay tribute to the tireless work of Kasia Czabanowska for her work as President of ASPHER for the last two years, developing our work on professionalisation and competency development and for enhancing our reputation with partners in the European, and wider international field.

These are all areas of work in which I intend to see further development and continuity.

I see my role in partnership development, strategy, and governance. In partnership, we will continue to work with our colleagues in European public health bodies, with the International Association of National Public Health Institutes, IANPHI, and with our counterparts the American and African associations of schools of public health. On strategy, we will work on a new strategy to 2025. On governance, we will be reviewing our articles of association and we will review Codes of Conduct to look at which best to adopt with our membership. We will seek to be inclusive, authoritative, evidence-based, pragmatic, supportive, friendly, and we will have fun.

I thank you for your confidence in me and I will give you my complete commitment for my term in office in supporting the development of public health in the European Region and beyond.

So, to conclude with Julius Caesar, paraphrasing Brutus… ‘there is a tide in our affairs, which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. Omitted, all the voyage of our lives is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat. And we must take the current when it serves or lose our ventures’.

John Middleton
June 18th 2019

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