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…)
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…)
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…)
With reports of a spike in alcohol sales suggesting that many are turning to alcohol during these unprecedented times, PhD student Emily Palmer is conducting a survey to find out more about alcohol consumption and the potential public health consequences.
I blink my eyes open. Head is throbbing, suddenly I realise how thirsty I am and reach for the glass of water on my bedside table. Blissful saviour. Then slowly, the blurry memory of uncorking yet another bottle of wine swims to the forefront of my mind. This is my experience of being hungover.
Throughout my teenage years, hangovers were a ritualistic reprimand for a failure in self-control. However, throughout my studies – first in biomedical science and then neuroscience – I began to learn more about the science of the hangover phenomenon. My interest started with a project in my undergrad degree focusing on alcohol. Alcohol in the context of intoxication and addiction is widely researched, and there is no shortage of published papers. I was fascinated to learn how this widely used, socially acceptable drug ravages the brain and body. (more…)
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…)
Ahead of the WHO Global Consultation on HTLV-1, Professor Graham Taylor outlines three steps to prioritise the neglected cancer-causing virus.
“I couldn’t do anything for a week after I opened the letter and saw that I was infected with it. I saw H and thought I had HIV. I’d never heard of HTLV”.
It’s not the first time that I’ve heard this, but this was two days ago, almost 40 years since the report in 1980 of the discovery of the human T-cell lymphotropic virus (HTLV-1). Sadly Janet* is joined in her lack of awareness not only by almost the entire general public but also by most healthcare professionals.
This weekend saw World HTLV Day marked for the second year, with the slogan is: ‘It’s time to care’. This is in response to a general perception that there is a widespread indifference toward HTLV. Hopefully this will change soon. This week, I fly to Tokyo to participate in a WHO Global Consultation on HTLV-1 to address the public health impact and implications of this little-known virus. (more…)
Dr Tim Chambers explains the damaging effects of marketing of unhealthy commodities on children’s health and what we can do to tackle the problem.
Unhealthy commodities such as junk food, alcohol, and gambling are leading causes of non-communicable diseases, mental illness, injury, and many social harms. The collective global health burden of diet– and alcohol-related diseases is estimated at five million deaths each year. But what is the role of marketing of these unhealthy commodities in driving their growing consumption?
Unhealthy commodities marketing through the eyes of a child
Children’s exposure to unhealthy commodities marketing, regardless of the product, has an adverse impact on their health. For example, junk food marketing shapes children’s dietary preferences and alcohol marketing is positively associated with earlier onset drinking and the likelihood of engaging in hazardous drinking. Children are particularly susceptible to marketing as they are unable to fully comprehend the biases inherent in ads. But with the unprecedented access and engagement with different media, how much marketing for unhealthy commodities are children actually seeing on a daily basis? (more…)
Dr John Tregoning takes us on a tour of vaccination’s greatest successes, explaining how this incredible human achievement works to keep us all safer from disease – as long as we keep vaccinating ourselves and our families.
Nature wants you dead. Not just you, but your children and unborn children and everyone you have ever met.
It wants you to cough and sneeze and poop yourself into an early grave. If it can, it wants you your blood vessels to burst and pustules to explode all over your body. Put simply, Nature is trying to kill you.
And until relatively recently, it was really good at doing this. The average life expectancy of a human in 1900 was 31 years. I should already be dead.
But then science intervened with two critical innovations, clean water and vaccines, and changed everything. Clean water has had the biggest impact, but vaccines are a close second. (more…)
Dr Katharina Hauck, a Health Economist, explains how economics can help to implement universal health coverage in the real world.
Millions of people still have no access at all to health care. Millions more are forced to choose between health care and other daily expenses such as food, clothing and even a home. Globally, over 800 million people incur catastrophic out-of-pocket spending every year, with health care costs consuming at least 10% of their household budgets.
Therefore, this year’s World Health Day focuses on universal health coverage (UHC). The World Health Organization defines UHC as “ensuring that all people can use the promotive, preventive, curative, rehabilitative and palliative health services they need, of sufficient quality to be effective, while also ensuring that the use of these services does not expose the user to financial hardship.” Many countries have declared their commitment to UHC. But after the political declarations are made, policymakers are left to grapple with a central issue: what services should be made available? (more…)
This Salt Awareness Week, Dr Queenie Chan puts the salt intake guidelines to the test and looks at the reality of curbing salt intake for better heart health.
Salt and sodium are often used interchangeably, but they’re not exactly the same thing. Sodium is a mineral that occurs naturally in foods or is added during manufacturing or both. Table salt is a combination of sodium and chloride, which was one of the most valuable modes of currency in ancient times. It has been used to preserve food for thousands of years and it is most commonly associated as a form of food seasoning. Salt also plays a role in food processing, providing texture and enhancing colour. (more…)