The children's advocate

BMJ 1998; 316 doi: (Published 28 March 1998) Cite this as: BMJ 1998;316:955

Kamran Abbasi finds out if David Southall is a publicity mad sinner or a banner waving saint

To say that Professor David Southall courts publicity would be partly right. As long as, he argues, it is for the betterment of children. He explains: “I am interested in advocacy. I believe that every voice expressing concern over childhood issues is important. Unfortunately, the state of children in so much of the world is disadvantaged—whether in an abusive home in Britain or in a zone of armed conflict. Advocacy can be supported by ethical publicity.”

Last week he published a controversial paper suggesting that high altitudes, including aircraft flight, may be harmful to some infants, causing airway hypoxia and possibly the sudden infant death syndrome (BMJ 1998;316:887-94). Even though infants were subjected to 15% oxygen to simulate high altitude, Professor Southall believes that his team did everything possible to minimise risks. He feels that much of the surrounding publicity was fair, and, as a result, airline companies are already showing a willingness to look further into safety for infants on flights.

In November last year he was at the centre of controversy when he supervised the secret filming of suspected child abusers. …

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