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Andrija Štampar Medallist Professor Selma Šogorić Address to WCPH2020

Publication date: 21.10.2020
Author: ASPHER

Each year, ASPHER awards the prestigious Andrija Štampar Medal to a distinguished person for excellence in the field of Public Health. The 2020 Medal was awarded to Selma Šogorić on Thursday 15 October 2020 at the 16th World Congress on Public Health.

2020 Andrija Štampar Medallist for Excellence in the Field of Public Health: Professor Selma Šogorić 

Address to the 16th World Congress on Public Health

Thursday 15 October 2020

Dear friends and colleagues,

Let me thank you for describing my lifetime work with the words outstanding accomplishments and for awarding it. The truth is that this prestigious award equally belongs to a whole lot of people – my tutors (especially Professor Slobodan Lang, Professor emeritus Silvije Vuletić and Professor John Ashton), coworkers at the Štampar School, local and international healthy cities/counties coordinators and their teams and the World Health Organization, Office for Europe for sheltering the Healthy Cities project for over thirty years. And, of course, to my patient and supportive family.

I feel blessed to have a chance to do, for over 35 years, what I love the most – to be a coach and to practice public health medicine. My specialist training in public health began in the time of adoption of the Ottawa Charter and Health for All strategy, Healthy Cities project initiation, blossoming of self-help and mutual aid, women’s rights and peace movement… It looked at the time that the World was mature to accept a new socio-environmental concept of health. And there was a vehicle to implement it locally – the concept of Healthy Cities. What was, at that time, rightfully expected from the academic community was to provide evidence, to develop tools and support implementation locally. 

My fascination with communities had grown over the years due to experience gathered (before and during the war) in Croatia and by working with different international organizations like the International Committee of the Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders and Health Net International in postwar Bosnia and Herzegovina. But my PhD research, conducted over a period of six years, in five European cities (Liverpool, Sandwell, Vienna, Pula, and Rijeka) was the revelation on what is the real value of the community.  Through interviews with 44 intervention leaders, I learned how to assess the efficiency of three different groups of interventions that were aiming to improve health and the quality of life in the community (those initiated by the city government sector, health-care system, or citizens sector). And even more importantly, through this naturalistic inquiry to identify the ways in which the efficiency of all three groups of interventions can be improved.

For me, Healthy Cities are the way to get down from the academic ivory tower into the real world of needs and opportunities, to reach the people, to hear them and to support them in a glorious endeavor - creation of a better life. Theory (academic research) and practice (work with communities) are inseparable, they feed on each other and make both (researchers and local communities) more credible and powerful in negotiations with policy makers at all levels. Without permanent interaction with communities I wouldn’t be standing in front of you. Therefore, I am proud to be seen as an academician with “dirty hands”.   

Since the beginning the Croatian Healthy Cities Network (CHCN) was hosted (sheltered) within the Andrija Štampar School of Public Health, University of Zagreb Medical School. Translated directly, it is the “School of People’s Health,” and (as the name suggests) it has always strived to bridge public health theory with practice. In Croatian (transition) society academic setting was seen, by the Network members, as an advantage and guarantee for stability and project continuity.

What makes the Croatian Healthy Cities Network unique is our approach to health in community and planning for health, which starts from the very citizens and local communities moving towards the national level (bottom up approach).  The Croatian Healthy Cities Network advocates for the right to difference in local communities – in identified needs and available resources it respects local specific traits in health planning, and it holds that there are no universal (one size fits all) solutions.

We are bringing innovation in policy and (everyday) practice of different cities’ departments by providing relevant data for evidence informed decision making, encouraging interdepartmental cooperation and mutual learning, sharing (academic) knowledge and supporting comprehensive health planning. What we learned from our own and others’ academic research is that effective, comprehensive and integrated strategies and interventions are essential in addressing complex challenges (such as the Covid-19 epidemic is today). The partnerships that create new working cultures and strengthen the (public health) capacity of institutions and city departments to support people-centered approach are essential. Throughout the years CHCN has committed to upgrade network activities to a higher level of excellence by: building public health and managing capacity of members - cities and counties (competence development), carrying out joint research and action projects (“learning by doing” approach), designing and implementing joint efficient interventions aimed at better health and improved quality of life in the community, providing academic facts and arguments to support evidence informed decision making, lobbying and advocating. For years, CHCN members – cities and counties have been social entrepreneurs, introducing new ways of working and transforming local services delivery.

Today the Healthy Cities/Counties (as a community health best practice) are integrated in our undergraduate and postgraduate medical students training; showing how we can (through social determinants of health - not just the health care system) influence peoples’ health.

Let me finish with a few sentences that Professor John Middleton wrote in the Editor’s introduction (in: Wounded Healthy Cities: searching for health and human dignity. West Bromwich: Sandwell Public Health Publications; 1992.): “The lesson here for public health practitioners elsewhere is that you are part of the community in which you work, you are subject to the same influences on health that you describe so dispassionately in your annual reports; you are not a passive observer, you are an interested party. Public health is fundamentally an issue of equality and equity, social justice and human rights.”

Last year, during the High-level Conference on Health Equity “Accelerating Progress Towards Healthy and Prosperous Lives for all” the emphasis was on acceleration and influence. Recalling the sentence from Brecht’s Mother Courage, who tells an offended soldier not to vent his anger without restraint, because it will be short-lasting. What one needs is a “long anger”. In my voyage “From policy to practice and back”, enhancing city and county administration public health and management competences I am striving to ensure preconditions for the health of all citizens. And that conscious, deliberate long-lasting anger keeps me going throughout my professional development.   

Professor Selma Šogorić 

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