Tag: Three Wise Women

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…)

Standing up for the facts: COVID-19 vaccination, fertility and pregnancy

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

Dr Viki Male explains how she took matters into her own hands in response to the mixed messaging around COVID-19 vaccination advice and pregnancy.


In 2003, the world was on the brink of a SARS-1 pandemic. As a Year 12 student at the time, I followed developments closely. Although the outbreak eventually died out, my interest in infectious diseases did not. Surely, the big one was coming. And I would be ready for it.

But by the time the big one came, my research has taken me in a different direction. At university, I had become passionately interested in a family of immune cells, called NK cells, that control viral infection. But these cells have another role that captured my imagination: they help the placenta to implant during pregnancy, and my lab is working out how. In March 2020, as immunologists around the world raced to make a vaccine, I shut my lab and went home to spend the next 12 weeks home-schooling my children. I would sit this one out. What use is a reproductive immunologist in a pandemic, anyway?

Some use, it turned out. In December 2020, as the vaccine rollout began, rumours started to circulate that antibodies raised by COVID-19 vaccination would target a placental protein, called Syncytin-1, causing infertility and miscarriages. There was no basis to this claim and if I, a reproductive immunologist, wouldn’t stand up and explain why, then what was the point of me? So I began engaging with the public, first on social media and then in print and broadcast. Here’s what they taught me… (more…)

We need to give everyone, everywhere, the precious gift of health

Professor Faith Osier

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

Professor Faith Osier shares her vision for health equity, from tackling vaccine inequity to empowering the next generation of scientists globally.


Almost a year ago to the day, my partner and I woke up our three young children in the middle of the night, readied them for the airport, hurriedly scrambled together the last of our belongings and embarked on a new adventure. We were moving from Heidelberg, a picture-perfect city that often made me feel like I was walking into a tranquil postcard. This had been home for four years and we kept our mixed feelings to ourselves as we ventured into the unknown, London. I was taking up a new position as the Executive Director of IAVI (formerly International AIDS Vaccine Initiative), at Imperial College London. We navigated the intricacies of relocating during lockdown, settled the children into school or rather “joyous home-learning” as was the case at the time, and I began to unpack my new job.

The mission of IAVI resonates strongly within me: “translating science into affordable, globally accessible public health solutions”. The opportunity to turn years of scientific endeavour into interventions that could transform the lives of the most vulnerable on our planet still springs me out of bed every day.  I have worked for over 25 years amongst the rural poor in Kilifi, Kenya, studied immune responses to malaria antigens in samples from similar study participants across Africa and appreciated first-hand the impact of ill-health on productivity, livelihoods and hope. (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…)

Finding ‘me’ in the fight against inequality

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

Dr Sarah Essilfie-Quaye, Project Manager in Research Strategy, discusses how we can all do more to address structural racism in academia.


I used to describe myself as an ‘early retired scientist’ – I left the lab not because I no longer loved research, but due to a series of challenges and roadblocks. However, on reflection, regardless of any career choices I made, it was unlikely I would become a professor. Because I am a woman; a woman who is Black; of African descent – Ghana, to be specific (#GhanaJollof!).

The harsh reality

To have a successful career in academia, I saw becoming a professor as the top of the achievements list, and while this is a tough goal for anyone, it is much, much tougher for some. I looked for Black women professors at Imperial. I think I was looking for my role models. Unfortunately for me ‘computer said no’, the answer was there were none. Zero. Nada. Zilch. This hugely influenced my decision to move away from academia and towards university administration, as I thought I was more likely to be able to achieve a stable and successful career that way. This was a decade ago, and despite now finally becoming part of a supportive team, I am still on short-term and part-time contracts. For this to happen I had to leave a permanent (albeit part-time) post elsewhere at Imperial – due to the toxic environment and lack of allies.

During my career, I have come to understand several key issues around race, and these include how under-represented Black women are at Imperial. There are still no women that look like me as professors. Nor in any permanent academic roles. In the whole of the UK there are only 35 professors who identify as Black women out of 21,000. And as I currently keep trying to highlight, while 25 per cent of Imperial staff are from a Black, Asian or ethnic minority (BAME) background, only 9 per cent are in senior positions, and how many of those are Black…? (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…)

My fight against medical myths and fake news on social media

Dr Amalina Bakri

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

Our final wise woman, Dr Amalina Bakri, provides an insight into the role of social media in fighting medical misinformation online.


Some people are often surprised to hear that I’m a General Surgeon (speciality trainee) with a significant social media presence – over one million followers across Twitter and Instagram. I use social media to communicate what I’m passionate about, and that is an evidence-based approach to lifestyle medicine and disseminating accurate health information.

As the internet has matured, social media has developed and become an intrinsic part of many people’s lives. Some commonly use social media as a trusted source of information or news. But in the current climate, fake news or misinformation spreads like wildfire on social media, making it hard for individuals to see the true picture without checking sources.

Despite this, social media is a quick and effective way to spread scientifically proven, correct health information. That’s why I think medics and other healthcare professionals have an important role on social media to provide accurate medical information and to debunk myths and fake medical news. (more…)

Governments need scientists to shape a brighter, evidence-based future

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

Our second is Dr Julia Makinde, an HIV researcher at the IAVI Human Immunology Lab, who makes the case for translating science into policy.


A dearth of advisers

A section of the nativity story portrays Herod the Great as something of a tyrant. A man who sanctioned an order to wipe out every male infant born in and around Bethlehem in a pre-emptive action to eliminate the threat of a new-born king. As difficult as it is to imagine anyone, let alone a political leader, endorsing the massacre of innocent children, the story presents an interesting metaphor of complex political motivations and the outcome of a breakdown in the process of policy making.

With vaccinations, climate change and access to healthcare taking centre stage in the global debate, the intersection between science and policy has never been more relevant. Whilst I started out in research with the desire to help create solutions to global healthcare challenges, I have come to understand that the actions taken to disseminate research outcomes are just as important as the process of discovery itself. (more…)

Radiation and human health – separating scientific facts from urban myths

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

Our first is Professor Gerry Thomas, a leading authority on the health impacts of radiation, who tells us why we should focus on the facts.


I was born in the 1960s and grew up believing that the word ‘radiation’ meant something that was infinitely dangerous. Back then, we were led to believe that nuclear weapons would lead to the extinction of our species, and that to be bitten by a radioactive spider would confer supernatural powers! I was therefore sceptical about the use of nuclear power. It wasn’t until 1992, when I started to study the health effects of the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power station in 1986, that I began to question whether my understanding of the health effects of radiation came more from science fiction than scientific fact. (more…)

Noël hypothesis: my life as a medical statistician

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

Our final wise woman, director of the School of Public Health Professor Deborah Ashby, shares her joy of medical statistics, from working in neonatal research to taking on the Royal Statistical Society presidency. 


We Three Queens of Orient are…” came the dulcet sounds in the lead-up to Christmas. I looked up across the old Liverpool maternity ward, to see three colleagues singing and, channelling Morecambe and Wise, dancing towards me and my newborn daughter. The three women who had come to visit were all, like me, lecturers in medical statistics at the University of Liverpool, and that memory still brings a smile.

Although it was less glamorous than the alternatives, I’d chosen to give birth there, reasoning that if it went well, it didn’t matter where I was, but if not, I’d rather be somewhere with wide experience, actively engaged with and informed by research. In Liverpool, I had worked with the academic doctors from that maternity hospital, so knew I would get both. You might wonder why they had sought my advice, but research on babies involves analysing complex data on them, or designing studies to test competing treatments or strategies – all of which needs statistical skills along with clinical input. (more…)