Institute for Global Health


COVID-19: Engagement

Institute staff have been engaged by mainstream and specialist media, as well as by governmental and public health organisations, in order to provide expert insight for the coronavirus response.

Frontline clinical work

Along with their UCL colleagues from other departments, all 37 of IGH's clinical academics were released to work on frontline NHS duties.

These academics are applying their practical knowledge and experience to test and treat patients, not only close to our London base but nationally and internationally.

Many staff are based in London hospitals working directly with COVID-19 patients and on trials such as the Novavax vaccine trial (see our COVID-19 Research page).

Marie Francis and Julian Surey, based at the Mortimer Market Centre, teamed up with Find and Treat and NGOs early in the pandemic to visit London's homeless population and arrange accommodation in hotels.  The London Joint Working Group has published a report about their activities.

The specialist nurses, who usually work on outreach screening services such as HepCare, are testing this vulnerable population for COVID-19 and ensuring they are treated and housed accordingly.  In early 2021 their work was extended to include the vaccination rollout.

Strategic Input

Researchers from across our Institute have been prominent advisors and commentors, often helping to shape government policy using their expert knowledge.

DELVE (Data Evaluation and Learning for Viral Epidemics)

IGH staff have been contributing as members of DELVE (Data Evaluation and Learning for Viral Epidemics), a multidisciplinary group convened by the Royal Society to support a data driven approach to managing the COVID pandemic. Anne Johnson and Nigel Field (as Chair of the DELVE working group) sit on the DELVE committee.

Anne Johnson and Guy Harling were recently part of a team who wrote a wide-ranging report identifying the potential for Testing, Tracing and Isolation to help control the UK COVID-19 epidemic, as part of a wider package of interventions.

By reviewing successful programmes internationally, conducting modelling exercises and drawing on experiences from multiple academic fields, the team highlighted the importance of speed, compliance and coverage for TTI to be effective, and the need for integration with the wider response.

The DELVE group subsequently published highly influential reports on COVID-19 infection in hospitals and the impacts of school closures and plans for their reopening.

House of Lords Science and Technology Committee

Ibrahim Abubakar supports the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee as a Scientific Adviser.  On 23rd July, the Committee wrote to the Prime Minister and summarised their recommendations for urgent action needed before the winter.  The recommendations drew on testimony from witnesses including Anne Johnson (who is cited multiple times in the letter).

Food security and nutrition in Nepal

Naomi Saville, who is based in Kathmandu and has 25 years' experience in Nepal, is working with DFID to provide thematic advice on food security and nutrition during the country's COVID-19 response to inform programme interventions and delivery. 

Naomi will be working with the Nepalese government, local partners, UNICEF, the UN World Food Programme amongst others to support efforts to maintain food and nutrition security throughout the outbreak.

SAGE International Team

Lucy Irvine is currently on secondment to the SAGE International Team, where she is synthesising international evidence and identifying innovative research for the GSCA and SAGE.  Lucy is also helping to coordinate research projects at the Government Office for Science and the British Academy into the impact of Covid-19 on vulnerable populations and BAME communities.

BRCiS NGO consortium work in Somalia

Andrew Seal is working with the BRCiS NGO consortium to advise them on how to monitor the impacts of COVID-19 on their programme beneficiaries in Somalia.

Hertfordshire County Council's COVID-19 public mental heath strategy

Responding to the impact of COVID-19 on poor mental health and emotional wellbeing are a national priority.  A new manual forms part of a new programme of support from Hertfordshire Growth Hub, targeting local business owners to help them support themselves and their staff during the ongoing pandemic and its pressures on business.

The work was completed in partnership with Public Health at Hertfordshire County Council and UCL Centre for Global Non-Communicable Diseases.  The manual has been developed by Dr Rochelle Burgess, Community Health Psychologist, UCL Institute for Global Health, Hertfordshire County Council’s Behaviour Change Unit, and Tracey Muponda, Trainee Health Psychologist, University of the West of England. 

Child and adolescent health policy advice

Delan Devakumar provides scientific evidence on child and adolescent health policy advice on behalf of the REACH-WELL group.  Delan has also advised a group of London boroughs on their COVID strategy in respect of the increased mortality in BAME groups. 

Incidence and awareness in South Africa

Guy Harling and AHRI colleagues are supporting the work of South Africa's Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) in building a knowledge base around the national public's understanding of COVID-19, and its impact on their lives.

Guy is also working with AHRI on their longitudinal population surveillance to ascertain incidence of COVID-19 in a rural South African setting among residents in the AHRI surveillance area.  Regular (weekly for a sub-cohort) telephone interviews with household heads will screen for symptoms of the virus and the impact of related social distancing policies on residents.  Those screening positive will be followed-up for testing, referral for care if needed and contact tracing-based on government protocols.

Raising awareness of racism towards people of east and south-east Asian heritage

Lu Gram was interviewed for Yahoo! News about experiences of racism towards people of east and south-east Asian heritage.  Lu and his fellow campaigners raised funds to launch End the Virus of Racism, the UK’s first non-profit organisation dedicated to addressing racism faced by people of east and southeast Asian heritage.

Coronavirus: preparing for a challenging winter (an Academy of Medical Sciences report)

Anne Johnson, Guy Harling, Heather Bailey, and Nigel Field contributed to an influential report from the Academy of Medical Sciences called 'Coronavirus: preparing for a challenging winter'.

The report considered the combined challenges of a backlog of non-COVID-19 care, the disruption to the delivery of care caused by the first wave of COVID-19 and the risk of a winter influenza epidemic, in preparing for a resurgence of COVID-19.

Community Survey of the experiences of COVID-19 on people living with HIV in the UK

This survey, designed and run by the HIV community with Caroline Sabin and team, aimed to describe the impact of COVID-19 on the mental and physical health of people living with HIV, particularly those in BAME or other under-served groups, and on their ability to access appropriate HIV care services.

The survey was shared online to members of the UK-Community Advisory Board (UK-CAB), via social media and HIV support organizations across the UK.

Overall, there were 305 responses – whilst this is unlikely to be fully representative of the UK HIV cohort, the findings did highlight many areas of concern to those living with HIV and has been used to support advocacy.

Some of our COVID-19 research has also been presented to policy-makers, for instance the project on association of HIV with outcomes of COVID-19 hospitalization outcomes was submitted as evidence to SAGE.

Advice and Commentary

Multi-language pandemic parenting advice (for WHO and Unicef)

The clinical psychology team, led by Lorraine Sherr, prepared a series of documents and tips on parenting in the Covid-19 pandemic for the World Health Organization and UNICEF.  The documents were translated into 51 languages.

UCL Minds podcasts

Anne Johnson and Graham Hart took part in the UCL Minds podcast series in the episode "What can we learn from the history of pandemics?"  The panel discussed outbreaks through history, including HIV/AIDS in the 1980s and the Black Death in the 14th century.  Anne's expertise has been called on by a wide range of media outlets, such as for this New Scientist article on lockdowns.

A subsequent episode in the series discussed the subject "How has the pandemic highlighted BAME inequalities?" and featured Delan Devakumar.  Ibrahim Abubakar was a guest on the episode asking what we can learn from the African response.

Rochelle Burgess featured in the "How is it affecting our mental health?" episode and Lorraine Sherr was a guest for "How can we juggle parenting, home schooling and play?"

Commentary of government strategy

Anthony Costello was interviewed by various national media outlets including the BBC's NewsnightChannel 4 News and The Independent regarding early measures by the UK and other national governments to prevent the spread of the virus.  Tim Colbourn also provided commentary in specialist publications such as The Lancet Public Health and via mainstream media including the BBC's Jeremy Vine show.

Prof Costello also gave evidence to the UK Government's Health and Social Care Committee for their inquiry into the country's management of the coronavirus outbreak.

Impact on mental health

Rochelle Burgess wrote about causes and consequences of mental health and COVID-19 for Nature magazine; "COVID-19 mental-health responses neglect social realities."  Rochelle's commentary piece calls for mental health services to do more to support people during the pandemic.

Rochelle was on BBC World Service's Newshour speaking about mental health and community psychology.

Rochelle and Delan Devakumar sit on the Society and Mental Health COVID-19 Expert Group.

How the virus spreads via public transport 

Lara Gosce's research on how influenza-type illnesses are spread on the London Underground was widely quoted in the media as the UK began to increase containment measures.  Lara was interviewed by various outlets including on BBC London News.

Public advice and information in the early stages of the pandemic

Guy Harling answered listener questions on BBC Radio 5’s ‘Nihal Arthanayake Show’, and the next day appeared on BBC Breakfast, providing a brief overview of the epidemic and giving advice on how to minimise risk of catching the virus and spreading it to others.

Therese Hesketh took part in a debate for the Economist's weekly podcast, on the subject "What can countries do to prepare for covid-19?".

Chikwe Ihekweazu wrote for The Conversation about steps Nigeria is taking to prepare for cases of coronavirus, incorporating knowledge gathered and systems put in place following the Ebola outbreak.

Raising awareness of inequalities caused and exacerbated by the virus

IGH staff have been instrumental in ensuring the inequalities in the impact of Covid-19 are prominently featured in the UK’s mainstream and academic press.

Letters and publications in The Lancet (April 2020 and June 2020) and the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine (June 2020) have helped to maintain nationwide focus on racism and discrimination.

Delan Devakumar spoke to LBC Radio and Euronews TV about his ethnic group research.

Please see the "Strategic Input" section above for details of End the Virus of Racism, a charity founded in response to increased racism towards people of east and south-east Asian heritage.

General advice and commentary

Many UCL staff have been interviewed by the mainstream press.  The resulting articles are too numerous to list comprehensively, but a few are highlighted here: