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Lifting the lid on awareness days

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I’m writing this on World Toilet Day. That’s not a sentence that I’d ever expected to see myself use, if I’m honest. But here we are, World Toilet Day is real and I’m learning a lot. ‘Say thank you to your toilet this World Toilet Day, 19 November’, says the tagline on the website, and I just did. It can’t hurt.

Researching the subject, I picked up one or two interesting facts. The one I liked the most was the case of the 17,000 missing bogs in India. An incredible number of brick shithouses, built at Government expense,  have completely disappeared off the map. One theory is that the locals find the buildings are more useful as storehouses and continue with their ablutions as before. In any case, the Indian police have got nothing to go on. Proving once and for all that the old ones are the best.

World Toilet Day has piqued my interest in the whole concept of ‘awareness days’ and what exactly they are supposed to achieve. There are more awareness days, by a sizeable margin, than there are actual days in the year, so we could spend more time being made aware of stuff than we’ve got available in our lives, if we were so inclined. Luckily for our sanity, we tend not to do so.

World Diabetes Day was on 14 November and while I’m aware that diabetes is a serious killer, under-diagnosed and on the increase, I’m not sure what we were supposed to do on the day of the event. The concept seems somewhat cloudy. Did they distribute urinalysis sticks? Should we have abjured biscuits? Should we, as GPs, have tried harder than usual to diagnose the disease? Should previously shy and retiring secret diabetics have come out, as a result of the positive publicity? It’s not clear.

Other awareness days seem remarkably arcane. Friday 1 November was International Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome Awareness Day (I am not making this up). If I, a GP of 20 years’ standing, have never heard of this condition, and do not have a single patient on a list of 8,000 who suffers from it, one wonders whether an awareness day is a wise use of resources. For the record, fact fans, it’s a practically untreatable and totally unmissable form of childhood epilepsy. Going by this description, there will be not a single case that we are unaware of, rare that it is. So why an international awareness day?

Many of the others are head-scratchingly bizarre. Orgasm Day is held on the June solstice (clear your diary for that one, folks), Menstrual Hygiene Day is on 28 May, Moebius Syndrome Awareness Day takes place on 24 January, and – I like this one – Rare Disease Day is on 24 February. Rare Disease Day? Really? Which disease, and how rare are we talking? What can possibly be going on there that is in any way useful to anybody?

Having browsed the subject at length online, though, I have found one day that may benefit humanity as a whole, should we observe it to any significant degree: 22 February 2014 is World Thinking Day. Let’s give it a go – even if we don’t bother on all the other days of the year.

Dr Phil Peverley is a GP in Sunderland

Readers' comments (6)

  • 22nd Feb Thinking Day is a Girl Guide day ( now minus the Girl), to think of all fellow Guides worldwide. As a male of the species you were probably not a Girl Guide, may have been a Boy Scout but of course in those days the two were kept apart. Having said that your suggestion that we all think on that day is laudable any suggestions as to what? Answers on a postcard.

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  • It can be funny but there's also a serious side. "Awareness campaigns" can misinform as much as they inform. For instance, the Cancer Research website informs me that peak incidence of breast cancer is in the 85+ age group. However the awareness adverts generally feature photogenic women in their 40s. Result - public misperception which has the potential to increase anxiety of younger people, reduce vigilance of older people, skew funding decisions and so on...

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  • LOL. There should be a Phil Peverley Awareness Day everyday. It is priceless!

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  • Awareness days are necessary because of the lack of awareness of many health problems that appears to afflict the medical profession.
    Admittedly many of these seem absurd. However, as a sufferer of ME, I like many of the 250,000 victims of this illness, I have abandoned GP's and the internet is now my doctor.
    The ignorance and arrogance of the medical profession in relation to a host of conditions is what has prompted these campaigns.

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  • When is Sense of Humour Failure Awareness Day?

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  • What the world really needs is an Awareness day - awareness day.

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