October 2018 will see the city of Liverpool host the Fifth Global Symposium on Health Systems Research (HSR2018), during which she will welcome delegates from across the world. Cosmopolitan and culturally diverse, the historic port city is accustomed to welcoming visitors. Since opening in 2008, ACC Liverpool – the HSR2018 venue – has hosted over 3,000 events, attracting 5.7 million visitors. Famous for football, music, culture, museums, two iconic cathedrals (one of which will host the conference dinner), parks, art, shopping, politics, resistance and “scouse” humour, Liverpool has much to offer the visitor. But Liverpool’s rich history also highlights its notable position as a pioneer in the public health movement, making it an even more appropriate location for the 2018 Symposium.
19th century Liverpool grew rapidly and many of its population lived in poor, overcrowded accommodation. Fortunately, action was taken to improve the dire conditions, which included the appointment of the country’s first Medical Officer of Health in 1847. William Henry Duncan drove forward improvements in the housing and sanitary conditions of the city, which had seen epidemics such as the devastating cholera epidemic of 1832. During this epidemic, another pioneer, Kitty Wilkinson, an Irish immigrant, offered neighbours the use of her house and yard and taught them to scrub their clothes and bedding clean with chloride of lime. Kitty’s initiative was recognised, and in 1842 when the world’s first public wash house was opened in the city, she was appointed Baths Superintendent. In the twentieth century, Liverpool continued to introduce new public health strategies, being one of the first cities to run a whole-population screening programme for tuberculosis in 1959 and establishing some of the first urban smokeless zones in the 1960s.
However, Liverpool is still the most deprived local authority district in England, and it has some of the greatest health inequalities in the UK, with its residents being amongst those with the lowest life expectancy in England. The link between wealth and health has been long established and recognised in Liverpool and in the wider UK. There is an active research community within the city exploring these issues and continuing the City’s pioneering spirit to improve the health and well-being of its citizens and to share this learning across the world.
The consortium of partners organising the 2018 Symposium with Health Systems Global is led by the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM). LSTM was founded in 1898 by Sir Alfred Lewis Jones, an influential shipping magnate. At the time, Liverpool’s extensive trade with regions such as West and Southern Africa led to increasing numbers of patients being admitted to hospital with ‘tropical’ diseases. Sir Alfred Jones donated £350 to set up a School of Tropical Medicine to investigate these outbreaks, and LSTM became the first institution in the world dedicated to research and teaching in the field of tropical medicine. It continues to pursue its mission of working in partnership to reduce the burden of ill-health for those in resource-poor settings.
Liverpool’s renaissance and its multi-cultural heritage was celebrated in 2008 when the European Union awarded it the title of European Capital of Culture, with a year of events. Liverpool has a long history of welcoming migrants from across the world and has signed to City of Sanctuary Motion, recognising the positive contribution migrants make to the social, cultural and community life of Liverpool. They have enriched the city and contributed to its unique cultural heritage. This was showcased during the events of 2008, and illustrated in the strapline ‘The World in One City’. The impact of this award on the city’s economy, confidence and image have been significant and well researched by Liverpool University. The legacy is to be further researched ten years on, for 2018.
This blog post is the first of a series that will be published in the build-up to HSR2018 so you can learn more about Liverpool, its culture, its contribution to health systems, inclusive approaches to health and well-being and what it has to offer delegates. We look forward to welcoming delegates to our fine city and sharing its heritage with you!