Tag: 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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There is good evidence for the benefits of osteoarthritis treatment – but we should not accept the status quo

Following the publication of new draft guidance by NICE on the care and management of osteoarthritis, Dr Fiona Watt breaks down the misconceptions surrounding its impact on patients and healthcare professionals, and why developing effective treatments for the condition is more vital than ever.


8.75 million people live with osteoarthritis in the UK and the condition is the fourth leading cause of years lived with disability worldwide. Osteoarthritis commonly affects joints such as the knee, hip or hand, leading to progressive change and damage in joint tissues, frequently causing joint pain and functional difficulties. It is the leading cause of joint replacement. As an osteoarthritis researcher and someone who treats people with osteoarthritis in the NHS, I awaited the draft updated National Institute for Health & Care Excellence (NICE) guidance on the management of osteoarthritis with some anticipation. This guidance is important because it shapes (and restricts) the way that the NHS approaches advice and treatment, based on scientific evidence.

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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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Could we have a simple solution to this huge HIV problem?

Test tube of blood with a label written "HIV TEST"

There are currently 38 million people infected with HIV worldwide with up to a million deaths each year.  During National HIV Testing Week, we hear from Dr. Catherine Kibirige  who has developed a highly sensitive HIV-1 test that can detect a single infected cell with high precision.


Meet Dr. Fred Nsubuga, he manages the Diagnostics Laboratory at Jinja District Hospital in Uganda.  His laboratory is not equipped for HIV-1 treatment monitoring, so, when patients come in who need a viral load test, he must collect, process and store their blood samples, batch them together, then send them on a truck to the national HIV testing laboratory in Kampala, the capital city, 44 miles away.  Despite the availability of this state-of-the art facility which boasts a Roche Cobas 8800™ high-throughput instrument with a good computer-based laboratory management system, it can take months for the results to get back to him.  Sometimes, they go missing.  

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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…)

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…)

Why plain packaging for cigarettes does not increase illicit trade

Dr Anthony Laverty discusses new findings that quash the argument that plain cigarette packaging increases illicit tobacco trade.

Australia was the first country in the world to introduce standardised, or plain, packaging for cigarettes and tobacco. The move was the product of a long-running campaign from the public health community and meant that the packets are allowed no branding; just the product name in standard font, colour and size. Since Australia brought in these measures, the UK followed in 2017, as did Ireland and France, increasing the number of countries in the world which restrict one of the key avenues for the tobacco industry to advertise their products. (more…)

A public health Insight into the UK’s new obesity strategy

Public health researcher Charan Gill provides an inside look at the Government’s new obesity strategy and discusses if it’s the way to tackle the obesity crisis.


In July the UK government released the ‘Tackling Obesity: empowering adults and children to live healthier lives strategy’. As a public health researcher, I was eagerly waiting for this to be published and I know many others were also anticipating what was going to be released in the document.  This new strategy has received a great deal of criticism, and although it does raise valid and important points, it has left many confused. Despite this, there have also been several important issues raised which needed to be addressed. Over recent years, several obesity strategies have been published, but I want to highlight some key positives from this strategy and how I see it working.

Firstly, I want to recognise how great it is to see the government emphasising on public health and prevention. Acknowledging that there are public health services that can offer huge benefits to the public and will in turn have beneficial impacts and reduced strain on the NHS. The strategy claims that the government will expand weight management services and the NHS Diabetes Prevention Programme which are a few services which can offer preventative support.  These suggestions are fantastic and offer practical resources to support individuals who want to make healthy lifestyle changes. (more…)