It’s more than 10 years since I first presented a statistical model to predict which countries in Africa were most at risk of a polio outbreak. Since then, our research collaboration has evolved and adapted the tool to meet current needs. With wild polio eliminated from Africa, the major concern in this region is tackling outbreaks of circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus serotype 2 (cVDPV2), which can cause permanent paralysis.
Many are still struggling in the disruptive wake of COVID-19. An open call from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations underlines the importance of social solidarity and ‘contagious’ kindness in communities response to COVID-19. Kindness and generosity, defined as the capacity to give more than is necessary or expected, that are driving people to help others are essential for us to getting through the gloomy, long-lasting fight against the pandemic.
The London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) has a long and prestigious history of continuity and change in its mission to improve health worldwide. Changes are often in response to new challenges – as exemplified by our pivotal role in the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which suddenly emerged in late 2019.
It is estimated that over 3% of the world’s population required humanitarian aid in 2020. As temperatures rise and weather patterns shift, one can only imagine the number of people and financial resources needed to provide services if we continue unabated on this current dangerous path. We lack accurate figures but hypothesize that the destruction of formal structures and social safety nets during natural disasters will likely lead to increases in violence against children.
On June 10 2011, a team of us launched the World report on disability at the United Nations in New York. The first of its kind, the report reviewed the global picture on the lives of people with disabilities and provided the best available evidence on what works to enable people with disabilities to flourish. I remember well the months of writing, preparation and checking. I also remember the films we made with women with disabilities, and the launch film I made with Professor Stephen Hawking.
Mark Twain said that history does not repeat itself, but it rhymes. I’m not so sure.
Innovative science is often borne out of necessity, and this pandemic is no different. Scientists around the world have sequenced the SARS Cov-2 genome, rapidly identified COVID-19 strains and developed successful vaccines in record-breaking time to tackle the virus. COVID-19 diagnostics, such as PCR and lateral flow tests (LFT), are now an intrinsic part of our everyday lives, helping to detect cases and prevent small, localised outbreaks from becoming epidemics. However, these tools – while crucial – are invasive, costly and do not offer immediate results.
After more than 14 months living with COVID-19 restrictions in the UK, the importance of social support has never been clearer, particularly when it comes to raising children. As the physical links between households were cut, maternity and community health services restricted, and early years settings and schools closed, the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 rapidly slowed. However, so did the flow of essential social support to parents.
In 1978 I went to work in The Gambia as a junior doctor at the Medical Research Council (MRC) research unit hospital. With a population of less than one million at the time there was only one government ophthalmologist, Dr Shiona Sowa. I got to know Dr. Sowa well and heard about the work which had brought her to The Gambia - to try out new vaccines for trachoma.
The COVID-19 pandemic has sparked great interest in the mathematical models used to estimate disease transmission in the population. These models have figured prominently in the decisions of many governments, as they can help project the course of the disease, allocate people and resources, and evaluate the impact of policies. But models - though undoubtedly valuable - are not crystal balls; they are only as good as the available information.