Category: School of Public Health

Consulting and involving the public in the first human COVID-19 human challenge study

How do you engage members of the public with medical research? Dr Emma Smith, HIC-Vac Network Manager, outlines how consulting the public was crucial during the world’s first COVID-19 human challenge study.


It is important that health and social care research aims to improve the overall well-being of the population, from advancing treatments for patients to helping us live healthier lives. People are at the heart of medical research and so engaging and involving them is an integral part of the research process and one that is mandated by most funders.

When we set up the world’s first COVID-19 human challenge study, acceptability of research to participants and society more broadly was particularly relevant because of the study’s ethically complex nature.

With volunteer participants being deliberately exposed to coronavirus (COVID-19) and the associated risk (albeit very small) of serious illness or death, the public’s perspectives were an important element of assessing if the study was acceptable and ethical (and was stated by the WHO1  as one of the key criteria for the ethical acceptability of COVID-19 human challenge). (more…)

Don’t let a fear of the unknown limit your ambitions – my experience of studying for a Master of Public Health during the pandemic

Graduating is a significant milestone, especially if your studies have been impacted by Covid-19.  Jasmin Adebisi, now an alumni of the Master of Public Health programme, shares what it meant to walk across the stage at the Royal Albert Hall.


Graduation represents the culmination of a journey and the attainment of a goal. It is an exciting period in any student’s life which brings a long journey of hard work to a close. Graduation day can be filled with an array of varying emotions, including feelings of joy, pride and contentment but also thoughts of anxiousness, worry and concern of what’s to come next.

Having been a part of the Covid cohort of 2021, I can say with confidence that I have also experienced these emotions during my time studying. Reflecting on the start of my journey, I was bursting with excitement on getting accepted to my master’s course but was also deeply concerned because of the pandemic and the future.

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Speaking authentically within higher education

How can we foster a sense of authenticity within ethnically minoritised students? Dr Zoe Moula, Teaching Fellow at the School of Public Health, aims to raise awareness of how we can promote a more inclusive educational environment and understand the barriers which can affect a student’s sense of authenticity within higher education.


The underrepresentation of ethnically minoritised students at university, and even more so in medicine, often results in identity suppression in order to ‘fit in’. Yet, this can lead to increased anxiety, and interferes with a student’s ability to succeed academically and professionally.  Societal, structural and institutional factors, such as racism, discrimination and socioeconomic inequalities may all play a part into why a student may not be able to express their true self.  It is therefore crucial that any effort to promote Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) must also protect and promote a student’s sense of authenticity. (more…)

A portrait of loneliness: mapping social isolation

Are loneliness and social isolation the bane of living in the 21st Century? Since the early days of 2020, national lockdowns, social distancing measures and remote working have put a bright spotlight on loneliness – one of society’s rising problems that governments can no longer overlook. Dr Austen El-Osta shares how his new project to map loneliness in London hopes to highlight the scale of the issue.


The UK Government published the first Loneliness Strategy in 2018 and has since installed a Loneliness Minister to get people talking about the problem. This cross‑governmental strategy has three goals:

  1.  Improve the loneliness research evidence base
  2.  Consider loneliness in all government policy
  3.  Build a “national conversation on loneliness” to reduce the stigma associated with loneliness

Loneliness and social isolation are significant determinants of health and quality of life. They are strongly associated with psychological disorders, cardiovascular disease and are even a risk factor for the exacerbation of early mortality. For the last few decades, increasing urbanisation and over-reliance on technology has led to the ‘atomisation’ of society – think online games, virtual reality, chat rooms, AI chatbots and the recently publicised Metaverse. There is also an increasing number of services which can be accessed online including shopping and healthcare which decreases the need, and opportunity, for “in person” encounters.

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What is being done to help low-income children get a Healthy Start? And is it enough?

Jennie Parnham shares insights into an evaluation of Healthy Start, a food assistance policy in England.


Low-income children have a much lower chance of eating a healthy diet than more affluent children, as highlighted by the recent campaigning of Marcus Rashford.

The causes of this disparity are very complex. It’s also important to say that although it’s more likely, it’s not deterministic. Many children of all backgrounds have a healthy diet. However, unfortunately factors tend to cluster together, making a healthy diet less likely for some. Let’s consider a single parent with a young child. One-third of children in single parent households live in poverty and it can cost up to 75% of their disposable income to buy the recommended food for a healthy diet. This is because healthy food is three times more expensive than less healthy foods. In their neighbourhood, there might be more places to buy ultra-processed fast food than healthy food. Finally, they may have less time to prepare healthy food, as there are fewer helping hands at home. In this environment, many families find their options for healthy eating limited. (more…)

An intense, scientifically incredible journey – our response to COVID-19

This festive period Three Wise Women from the Faculty of Medicine will be giving us the gift of wisdom.

Dr Natsuko Imai reflects on the experience of supporting the Imperial College COVID-19 Response Team who provide key epidemiological insights to help inform the response to the pandemic.


Despite the introduction of “plan B”, I’m sure many of you will agree with me that, the run-up to Christmas this year still feels very different compared to 2020 when non-essential shops were closed, and we could only meet within our households or support bubbles. The swift introduction of measures and the fact we even have a vaccination programme to accelerate in response to the Omicron variant helps to keep me cautiously optimistic.

My colleagues in the MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis and I have been working on COVID-19 since January 2020. This was when the virus was still called “novel coronavirus 2019” and only a handful of cases had been reported outside of mainland China. Since our early assessment of the transmissibility and true size of the epidemic in Wuhan City, the SARS-CoV-2 virus has spread to every corner of the world, changing the way we live in ways we could never have imagined.

Before the pandemic, most of my work as the liaison between the Centre and the World Health Organization was co-ordinating analytical support for outbreaks, typically in low- and middle-income countries. Since 2018, I have worked with colleagues on Ebola outbreaks in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, doing rapid real-time analysis to understand – “how bad is the outbreak? How many cases can we expect in the next 3-4 weeks? How many vaccines need to be deployed?”.

This year, I have worked on events closer to home, supporting the Centre’s Imperial College COVID-19 response team who provide key epidemiological insights to help inform the response to COVID-19 both in the UK and abroad. With requests for analysis coming in almost daily in the early days, it has been an intense, but scientifically incredible journey. I am especially thankful for the generosity everyone has shown under all kinds of pressures. (more…)

The Future is Fungal

illustration of fungi

Jenny Shelton takes us through the incredible potential of fungi and how this diverse, yet often overlooked, species may hold many of the answers to global challenges, from climate change to food insecurity. 


Fungi play important roles in nature, food production, medicine, industry and bioremediation yet we have only discovered ~150,000 out of a potential 6.3 million fungal species. Just recently, a PhD student found undiscovered fungal species in seeds stored at the Millennium Seed Bank and estimates the whole collection might contain up to 1 million new species! You might be surprised to learn that fungi are more closely related to animals, and therefore humans, than they are to plants, and that the combined biomass of all fungi on Earth is 200 times greater than the entire human race.

The responses I often get when I tell someone I’m a mycologist is “Eurgh, I hate mushrooms!” or “Can you cure my athlete’s foot infection?”. It’s no surprise that this is their reaction given how little fungi feature in the U.K. school curriculum, or even in most biology and medical degrees, but it is such a shame given how magnificently diverse the Kingdom of Fungi is. (These responses also, unknowingly, capture the yin and yang of fungi: while this article is about the good that they can do it is important to acknowledge that fungal infections cause misery to millions of people around the world every year.)

Keeping in mind the challenges facing us – climate change, global food insecurity and infectious disease pandemics –I hope you will agree with me that the solutions to many of our problems could be fungal! (more…)

From Brazil to Westminster: learning from a community health worker model

On World Health Day, Dr Matthew Harris reflects on what we can learn from Brazil’s community health worker model.

Back in 2011, I was telling a senior consultant in Public Health about Brazil’s extraordinary primary care system which is based on an army of over 250k community health workers (CHW). It had been established in the northeast of the country in the mid-1990s, in response to a cholera epidemic, and since had scaled nationally, now serving over 70% of the population.  The principles seemed simple enough. Individuals from a neighbourhood are recruited and trained on a wide array of health and social care issues for a few weeks and then spend their working days visiting all the households that they are responsible for.  Not many households, just around 200 each, but each CHW makes sure that the households get at least one visit per month. (more…)

This Christmas is the time to be patient, not to become one

This festive period Three Wise Women from the Faculty of Medicine will be giving us the gift of wisdom.

As vaccines bring hope, Professor Helen Ward reflects on the emotions felt and lessons learned in a year confronting COVID-19.


What a strange year. For me, it has been full of contradictions. From one moment to the next I can feel sadness, frustration, anger but also pride and satisfaction. And guilt.

Sadness at the loss of life and the chronic ill-health that COVID-19 has brought, and for the loss of livelihoods and bleak futures for even more people. Frustration at the response of political leaders when vital decisions have been delayed, and anger that the pandemic has resulted in worsening social inequalities. Pride at my small part in the response, as an advocate for public health action when needed, a researcher co-leading one of the largest epidemiological studies (REACT), and an educator delivering a rapid online course to share the science of the COVID-19 response with over 100,000 learners. But also guilt that I have a secure and well-paid job that I can do safely from home, and that I have found research this year the most stimulating and satisfying of my career. Sometimes that enjoyment seems wrong.

My research career has focused on infectious disease epidemiology, particularly the control of HIV and sexually transmitted infections (STI), alongside teaching public and global health. I look back now and see how much of my career has been training for this pandemic challenge, and has taught me lessons that are very relevant for COVID-19.  From my HIV and STI research and clinical work, I learned about the complexities of controlling these infections. Understanding these “social” diseases requires a range of scientific approaches from basic immunology through mathematical modelling to anthropology. (more…)

Be the change you want to see in medicine

This festive period Three Wise Women from the Faculty of Medicine will be giving us the gift of wisdom.

Our first wise woman is Dr Sonia Kumar, Director of Undergraduate Primary Care Education and MEdIC (Medical Education Innovation and Research Centre).


My drive and motivation have always been underpinned by a strong and unshakable desire to make a difference, to try my best to make the world a better place. As you age you start to question where your underlying values come from, where and when did they start and from whom.

My father was a child of the Partition

Caught on the wrong side of the Indian border, my father as a very young child was forced to flee his then native country and travel with my grandmother, aunts and uncles, in the dead of the night on a train where children were muffled, and babies thrown overboard so the train could safely and silently make its way across the border. Years later he arrived in the UK in his twenties in search of new beginnings and despite the discrimination and racism of the 60s, he and my mother like many other immigrants of that time, showed untold strength and sacrifice to give us the next generation a better life.

Being a second-generation British Asian growing up in 70s and 80s Britain, I have not always had an easy ride. However, I am constantly reminded and humbled by the resilience and determination of my father and his forefathers and the opportunities and equality they fought for. It is an absolute privilege to honour those sacrifices and continue their legacy by ‘standing on the shoulders of giants’  in all aspects of my work. (more…)