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Lifting the lid on awareness days

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