Friday, 23 September 2016
Beijing 2016 the 19th International Leprosy Congress
New slogans for leprosy and a personal media black out for delegates.
The International Leprosy Conference is held every 3- 4 yrs. The conference was held in the modern Beijing International conference centre and about 900 Chinese delegates and 500 from other parts of the world attended. This meeting was important to the Chinese leprosy programme and the vice president came to our opening ceremony. There was a parallel conference going on for the Chinese delegates. The slogan for the conference was “Unfinished business”. We were also given very study purple rucksacks to go out and finish the business of leprosy.
This was an important meeting for me presenting research that we have done recently and my group were involved with 17 presentations and one poster. It is also an important opportunity to discuss ongoing leprosy research with others. We also had a meeting of our global consortium to study ENL ENLIST pre meeting. We are making significant progress with this project and it was good to meet up with the group pre-conference. During the conference we had several opportunities to present the data from the ENLIST studies which are being lead by Steve Walker. The new Global Leprosy Strategy was also presented and has three pillars of zero transmission, preventing disability, and promoting inclusion and removing discrimination against leprosy patients. These were then confected into a slogan, “the triple zero” which sounds plausible but actually is unachievable. One of the highlights was a session right at the end of the conference showing how leprosy affected people should be involved in research and planning at all levels. Our group also had an achievement when my recent PhD student Edessa won the prize for the best clinical leprosy poster.
Before the conference started I meet Xiamen, a Chinese leprosy scientist who worked in London with Hazel Dockrell and with whom I travelled to different parts of the leprosy programme in China in 2009, she has now retired. Her son is a well-paid patent lawyer. We went to explore The Hutongs which are crowded areas around the Forbidden City in Beijing, where people lived and worked. They have now been revamped and are full of trendy shops and eateries. We visited a Taoist temple showing an exhibition capturing old Beijing. The drawings illustrated the work of the intellectuals who had lived there, one committed suicide in the Cultural Revolution. The pen and ink drawings captured a past world beautifully. We walked around Huhai Lake where many other people were out enjoying themselves. We took a boat taxi across the lake to the central temple. We paused for supper there, eating at a tiny street restaurant and had cold dishes of vegetables, stuffed buns and pastry wrapped prawns. We climbed up to the temple overlooking the Forbidden City and sat at the top looking over the Forbidden City. It was a fine view but I found it quite disturbing; The Forbidden City looks so separate and excluding and I felt for the peasants who were excluded. It does not surprise me that there was a revolution. As we gazed out over the view waiting for sunset I was hit by jet lag and fell asleep so we took a taxi back to the hotel.
I was in China such a short time that I did not experience enough of the non tourist/ conference side of the country. It seems far more developed than when I visited in 2009. The streets seem much cleaner, fewer bikes around especially in the tourist areas. I sensed that people were not free. I did not spend enough time with anyone to really get a true feeling about the country. I sensed the control of the media, no one was able to access their Gmail accounts and I was not able to access my doctors.net account although I could access my London school (LSHTM, my academic account) one for reading but not sending messages. When I visited in 2000 I linked up with Billy who was running an HIV awareness programme in S China, he was a very helpful way into Chinese society. Similarly when I visited in 2009 travelling with Xiamon gave me local insights.
This was an interesting useful conference, and I enjoyed being in China again. Next time I need to have more time to explore.