In an earlier blog I mentioned that in addition to failings around mental health dual diagnosis there was another subject where lack of action made me angry. In truth on occasion it has also brought me to something approaching despair. The issue in question was Hepatitis C (HCV), a virus I have seen afflict friends and colleagues and let’s not forget the well over 100 million people worldwide living with the infection. It is a major contributor to the rising toll of liver related death.
You can find examples in almost every city, they come in many shapes and types, their popularity waxes and wanes, they can be stark, even ugly, deliberately uncomfortable or attractive, artistic even and ergonomic with consideration given to different populations and individual needs. They intersect my professional worlds of health and community safety policy. Their popularity, use and design tell us a great deal about urban problems and responses to these. Over recent months they have attracted a great deal of my attention and have achieved a new level of importance. This week I am going to consider the humble city bench. I would also like you to consider those in your area.
For the last two weeks I have been on my travels, combining a holiday with visiting friends and family. This has seen me enjoying the sunshine in Florida, the cherry blossom of Washington DC and the delights of Pittsburgh. This former steel city is visibly reinventing itself after some twenty years in the doldrums. Political and civic leadership aided by a strong academic sector, tech industries and redevelopment of its riverside has given Pittsburgh a tangible air of optimism. It so happens that my arrival here coincided with the anniversary of the development of the first successful polio vaccine at the University of Pittsburgh by Dr Jonas Salk (announced to the world on 12 April 1955). Truly a major milestone in global public health. When asked about who owned the patent to the vaccine, Dr Salk replied, “Well the people I would say. There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?” A man of great ideals as well as medical expertise.
When I was growing up in the 1970’s and ‘80’s there was a science programme on prime time television which highlighted the positive potential of new inventions and technology. In tone it was unrelentingly positive, despite the frequent mishaps as presenters and inventors experienced the challenges of demonstrating prototypes live on air. Although it attracted a degree of mockery, and no doubt much of its mass appeal did lie in watching demonstrations and experiments go wrong, it provided an upbeat vision of a future where we would all benefit. It was a distinct counterbalance against various other visions of the future we were offered via books, film or tv, which all seemed to be distinctly dystopian. There were various post nuclear apocalypse scenarios, global pandemics (the TV show Survivors had a profound impact on this eight year old) and of course there were concerns about resources running out, machines taking over, pollution threatening mankind, threats from outer space. The threats were considerable, some seeming more tangible than others. Yet you could reasonably argue that most societies looked forward with optimism (if not a little concern) and one of the big reasons for this was visible and demonstrable improvements in health.