In our latest blog, Professor Dame Anne Johnson FMedSci, Vice President (International), reflects on the Academy's work to improve global health challenges.
As the world remains in the grip of the COVID-19 pandemic, the importance of improving global health could not be greater. COVID-19 has reminded us that our health in the UK is inextricably linked to the health of others around the world, and that existing health challenges, such as inequality and access to healthcare, leave us even more vulnerable to the worst ravages of a new and serious infectious disease.
The Academy has a long history working in partnership to tackle global health challenges. We have a comprehensive portfolio of activities that strengthen international collaboration and bring leading researchers from around the world together to learn from each other and work together to solve some of our toughest health challenges. Our work brings expertise from high, middle and lower income countries together to drive excellence, build research and career opportunities and learn from one another.
Tackling global health challenges
The Academy is known as an organisation with a key role in bringing people together to unpick complex health challenges and build opportunities to improve future global health.
Our work on multiple long term health conditions (multimorbidity) has significantly raised the profile of this area of research in the scientific community and with policy makers globally and helped attract over £30 million of funding. We have achieved this via our first ever international working group report which put multimorbidity on the agenda of UK funders and policy makers. This initiated a collaboration with the Medical Research Council, National Institute for Health Research and Wellcome to create a resource hub to drive research in the area. We are also working with international partners who would like to address multimorbidity through our Grand Challenge Research Fund (GCRF) workshops, particularly with partners in sub-Saharan Africa.
“The Academy’s report on Multimorbidity should be a major stepping stone for the research community into a new era of discovery for this large area of science which is also practically very important for the future.”
Professor Christopher Whitty CB FMedSci, Chief Scientific Adviser for the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), Chief Medical Officer (CMO) for England and Head of the NIHR.
Our work has also addressed the need for universal healthcare and quality of healthcare, in meetings specifically on these topics, and through our work on multimorbidity and infectious diseases.
As we leave Europe, we need to continue to find a way to forge effective collaboration throughout the EU and across the globe.
We have historically influenced EU regulation such as the EU Clinical Trials Directive and GDPR, and have provided significant support to strengthen the Federation of European Academies of Medicine – an organisation we will continue to work with closely after we leave the EU. We also work closely with our sister Academies individually or through Academy networks, such as the InterAcademy Partnership, on important topics in global health, including joint events with India on AMR, Japan on AI and health data and an upcoming meeting with the Netherlands on the microbiome.
Through matched funding between the UK government and Newton Scheme partner countries across the globe, we are actively promoting research and innovation, at a governmental level, in partner countries to include South Africa, Brazil, Mexico, India and China. Meanwhile, our GCRF Networking Grants scheme is facilitating researchers to forge new links and generate innovative interdisciplinary research ideas to address global challenges.
“The Fellowship has given me the opportunity to spend two years in a laboratory in Oxford with different expertise to my laboratory in Bangalore. Access to an outstanding research facility, collaboration network and high level of academic associations, has helped me advance in my scientific career by providing a solid foundation in studying the disease progression and pathogenesis in HIV."
Dr Reena R. D'Souza, Newton International Fellow
Our Daniel Turnberg scheme has been running for 12 years and has awarded 290 Travel Fellowships to enable collaborative travel between researchers in the Middle East and the UK. In 2019, the Academy brought alumni of the scheme together at a meeting in Cyprus, a wonderful and memorable opportunity for awardees to meet other researchers and forge new collaborations.
We also work closely with partners in the US, this joint working is exemplified in 2019 when the U.S. National Academy of Medicine and the Academy co-hosted the 2019 Richard & Hinda Rosenthal Symposium, ‘Behaviour change to improve health for all.’ Bringing together leading experts, the event asked how cutting edge science and expanding knowledge about the factors driving overconsumption of food and alcohol and tobacco and drug use can lead to better interventions and policies to improve health across diverse populations.
Since 2016, through our GCRF programme, the Academy has also delivered 18 policy workshops in partnership with national academies in low- and middle-income countries. These workshops have collectively helped address some of the most pressing global health issues by bringing together the best international researchers to support research in those countries and beyond.
These are some of the key ways we collaborate internationally, by building connections around the world, supporting researchers to come to the UK and ensuring the latest research is driving progress on global health challenges.
Funding high quality research around the globe
The Academy has secured funding, including from the UK Government, to increase the capacity for high-quality research in low and middle-income countries, awarding over £12 million of funding to 497 international researchers , and supporting research exchanges to the UK and international research partnerships.
“The Academy works hard to help share UK expertise, and provide training and support to talented researchers from developing countries. This is good not only for global health, but also for the UK - ensuring that UK researchers can learn from the expertise and experience of their international colleagues.”
Professor Charlotte Watts FMedSci, Chief Scientific Adviser to the Department for International Development
At this critical time for UK and global research, the Academy is looking beyond our achievements so far and asking how we can best improve global health in the future. We want to ensure that we are a strong global voice to reduce inequality, increase access to quality healthcare and to strengthen international health security, informed by cutting edge science
To help us do this, we are creating a new and ambitious strategy, and we are inviting Fellows to share their hopes for the future and where they think our efforts would be best placed to make a tangible difference to patients and society in the UK and beyond. We will be holding two online sessions on 29 October 2020. For more information, and to register for these events, please visit: https://acmedsci.ac.uk/more/events/help-guide-the-academys-international-portfolio