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ASPHER June 2020 Newsletter: Message from the President

Publication date: 08.06.2020
Author: John Middleton

The world is in peril. Pandemics of COVID-19, racism and political incompetence threaten us all. A perfect storm of pandemic disease, crop failure, economic austerity and civil unrest confronts many of our countries. And the threats that seemed so urgent BC – Before Covid – have not gone away. Climate breakdown has been slowed, but still continues. Although air pollution has improved, other pandemic related pollution gets worse. The plagues of locusts which the public health world did nothing about at the start of the year, now threaten India. And the appalling brutal murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis has reignited protest in America and in London, Berlin and elsewhere. BLACKLIVESMATTER has never been more relevant in the context of the pandemic – as black people are more exposed to the virus in their key working roles, they suffer more with the disease, are more likely to die with it and less likely to get well treated when ill. Layer on top the continuing institutional racism against black people, not just in America, and you have an explosive combination. There has to be legitimate peaceful protest and the public health community needs to see racism as one of the forms of discrimination we must be active against. Schools of public health need strong statements of their anti-racist commitment, their coverage of racism as a cause of health inequality, in their teaching and research, and in our own school’s policies on recruitment, employment and values statements. Racism cannot be tolerated and must be addressed wherever it surfaces.

The pandemic is now taking off in previously less affected parts of the world – South America, Africa, and surging in India. For those countries previously most affected, the climb out of lock down is a dangerous and precarious journey. Pity my poor nation, where politics has now completely subverted an orderly planned route out of lockdown. Social distancing has all but collapsed. Today, June 1st, Schools return, parliament returns, shielded people are allowed out. Already there is a spike in London 2 weeks after the disastrous ‘Magic Monday’ headlines leaked by the government before VE day celebrations. One hospital closed its doors to emergencies recently due to an overload of COVID patients.

Since I last wrote, the United States has taken on themantel of shame as top of the COVID  deaths league table. The UK has followed up, to take over the highest number of deaths, and become the sick person of Europe. Coming out of lockdown to be nice to the people, coming out of lockdown to regrow the economy – these populist motivations are deadly. The countries which follow them risk continuing international isolation, physical, social, economic for a very long time to come, because they didn’t keep to the tough path when they needed to. While countries which have managed well will need to be very wary of us. The Greek government has rightly said Brits will need to go into quarantine for 2 weeks if they wish to go to Greece. Which government across the globe will welcome our business people into their boardrooms? Which truck drivers from Ireland and France will want to cross our increasingly unfriendly and bureaucratic borders? And which tourists from overseas will want to visit our stricken land?

The ASPHER COVID Task Force has been extremely active on your behalf over the past month. I do not need to repeat their contributions here – they follow in the newsletter. I commend to you the courage and commitment of our schools, their close cooperation with health and local government services across Europe, and their influence on many national government policies. But as you work your way through the newsletter, there are for me a number of highlights which I will list here.

ASPHER statement on the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak emergency.

ASPHER comment on the Physicians for Human Rights – Israel Statement of 7th April 2020.

ASPHER statement on masks.

ASPHER statement on the use of masks by children.

Face masks for the public during the COVID-19 crisis BMJ Rapid response.

Now is not the time to undermine the World Health Organisation. May 5th, 2020.

Public health must be strengthened for a healthy post COVID world.EPHA newsletter. April 30th 2020.

ASPHER statement on COVID-19 testing.

UK’s alternative scientific advisers put public health first BMJ 27th May 2020. Virtual lecture to Wolverhampton, public health students and faculty May 22nd, 2020: a pandemic of international cooperation.

ASPHER statement on inequalities and vulnerable populations

ASPHER web platform on de-escalation policies ASPHER handbook on basic epidemiology definitions: ‘How to count illness?’

I commend my colleagues in the ASPHER Secretariat for their tireless work; although I say this each time, it is always true, and during the current crisis they have really gone the extra mile on all our behalves. Thank you, Lore, Robert and Naomi. As we go into our virtual annual Deans’ & Directors’ Retreat meeting tomorrow, we should all welcome our renewed commitment to international cooperation between schools of public health on five continents. On May 15th, I was pleased to take part on ASPHER’s behalf, in the first meeting of the Global Network for Academic Public Health, convened by the North American Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health (ASPPH). This will be followed up by a meeting in our virtual Retreat which we hope will push the agenda of international schools’ cooperation even faster. There has never been a more important time, in the history of public health, for schools to come together, in professional expertise, in joint advocacy and in solidarity.

Yours in Health,

John Middleton,
President ASPHER



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