Way back then

In celebration of 30 years of publication, Mike Martin, the deputy editor of Middle East Health when it was launched in 1977, reminisces about the magazine’s origins in a small office in London.

I joined Middle East Health in 1977, taking my place as the new magazine’s first deputy editor, in a modern building in Sutton on the outskirts of London. Sutton was “officeland”, a functional sort of place, characterised by not having a great deal of character at all. It did not worry me too much.

The magazine was founded by the then IPC group (later to be absorbed into the Reed Elsevier empire). It was part of a stable of magazines covering everything from transportation to electricity in the Middle East. Not subjects to set the world alight, but that did not worry me too much either.

My background was as a news journalist and feature writer. The healthcare sector was new to me and I was a little unsure what I could bring to the subject.

But then I was not there so much for the “health” in Middle East Health. I was there for the Middle East. The region had been a passion of mine since I first visited Istanbul and later spent many months in Morocco and Algeria.

My boss and the first editor of Middle East Health was the formidable Lee Brown. She devised the concept of the magazine, made it a reality and ran it with an informality that belied her passion for journalism and the subject. It was a passion that was to rub off on me. Like every other subject, if studied for a while, it has its drama, its heroes and villains, and plenty of scoops waiting to be unearthed. Often it is, quite literally, a (story) matter of life and death.

During that time in the late 1970s, in the period following a building boom in the Middle East, there was much to write about on the healthcare scene in the region. One story will always stand out as summing up the excitement of the subject – the eradication of smallpox.

The founding year of Middle East Health – 1977 – was also the year of the last recorded case of naturally-occurring smallpox. I remember typing the name of the victim, a hospital worker in Somalia, and being utterly moved by the idea that this was the last recorded case – eradication was confirmed by the World Health Organisation in 1980 – of a disease that had killed tens of millions over history.

The story of the only major human disease to have been eradicated in history was, and remains, an epic one. I learned that there is nothing dull in the subject of health care.

Middle East Health had not even celebrated its first birthday when it picked up the first of several journalism awards. One was for a series of articles on alternative health care systems for developing countries.

From our London desks we fielded a network of freelance journalists working across the Middle East region. Chief among these was Robert Cockburn, who worked the Levant countries from his sometimes hazardous base in Beirut. Cockburn still writes on the subject of health care, most recently on the subject of the dangers of fake and substandard medical drugs in the developing world. The only problem I had on the magazine was that in the first year I never got to visit the Middle East. It was not even a budgetary constraint: I just never found the time.

So when the chance of a job in the Middle East came along I jumped at it. From my new base in Bahrain, working on one of the newly-founded English language daily newspapers, I would from time to time interview senior health professionals and even the occasional health minister. It was with great pleasure that I discovered that my old magazine was held in high regard. And then I forgot about Middle East Health.

Five years ago when I moved to Dubai, I was reviewing the titles in the company when, to my astonishment and delight, I spotted Middle East Health. Not only was it still going strong, but going stronger than ever.

I sensed immediately that it was right that the magazine should come “home” to the Middle East, where the pace of health care development is faster than ever and can no longer be adequately covered from London. The story to tell on health care in the Middle East is bigger than ever. As we blow out the candles on the magazine’s birthday cake, so everywhere in the region candles are being lit across the healthcare scene.

It’s a pleasure to still be in the market of recording that extraordinary success story.

Mike Martin is the regional manager of Trident Communications Dubai, the company handling the editorial and production for Middle East Health.


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