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Feature Medicine in the News

Health stories of the decade

BMJ 2009; 339 doi: (Published 10 December 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;339:b5281
  1. Jeremy Laurance, health editor
  1. 1Independent
  1. J.Laurance{at}

    Jeremy Laurance picks out the most important health stories in the UK media over the past 10 years

    Any selection of the top 10 health stories from the past decade is bound to be a matter of dispute. On some we can perhaps all agree, at least from the UK perspective. The MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine, hospital infections, National Health Service funding, and pandemic flu have dominated UK headlines not just for months but for years. Obesity, the smoking ban, cancer drugs, and in vitro fertilisation have also hogged their share of the limelight. The general practitioner Harold Shipman demands inclusion as, possibly, medicine’s nadir, and alcohol is in there because there is a head of steam building up behind it which makes it the likely focus of the next big public health battle.

    But what is striking, looking over these 10 stories, is how many of them—fully half—are in the arena of public health, which is still a Cinderella specialty in medicine. Public health deals in large numbers and scary themes—plague, catastrophe—which lends itself to the news agenda. But public health is also an area where the citizen has a role. We choose what to eat and drink, what vaccinations to have, what lifestyle to follow. News media can influence those choices and thus play their part, for good or ill, in the health of the nation.

    Pandemic flu

    If there is one story that has dominated the decade, this is it. It started in 1997, with the outbreak of avian flu in Hong Kong that led to the death of a 3 year old boy and the slaughter of one million chickens. For a few days panic gripped the city as virologists warned Armageddon was at hand.

    Six years later in 2003, a Chinese professor of respiratory medicine …

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