Wellcome Trust Clinical Research Fellow
Honorary Consultant in Clinical Infection
Nuffield Department of Medicine (NDM)
Tell us a bit About your role
I am a Clinical Consultant in Infectious Diseases and Microbiology in Oxford. Supported by a Wellcome Intermediate Fellowship, I run a programme of research into Hepatitis B Virus (HBV) with a special interest in populations in southern Africa.
After training in Nottingham, I spent junior doctor years in transit through London, Liverpool and Lilongwe. To support a developing interest in global health, I studied for a Diploma in Tropical Medicine, and then landed in Malawi coincidently with the arrival of the first antiretroviral drugs for HIV. Being involved at first hand in the earliest roll-out effort was both devastating (we were too late for so many) and inspiring (the outlook was utterly transformed).
I spent the next decade in a clinical infection training programme in Oxford, combining laboratory medicine with hands-on patient care, benefitting from an international academic network. I studied for a PhD in the immunology of HIV infection, developing life-long friendships and collaborations with colleagues in the UK and in South Africa. Through a subsequent NIHR lectureship and then my Wellcome award, I was able to develop independence in the field of endemic but neglected viral hepatitis infections, still rooted in South Africa. While enjoying the life-changing opportunities of establishing a new international project, I also adjusted working patterns to accommodate the needs of my growing family.
Through wider roles, I contribute to supporting the development of the Medical Sciences landscape, chairing the Athena SWAN team for the NDM, leading a programme in public engagement, wearing a ‘Director of Graduate Studies’ hat, supporting teaching as a fellow of Harris Manchester College, and with a leadership role in delivering the Infection and Immunity curriculum for Graduate Medicine. Writing and illustrating a new textbook in tropical medicine allowed me to combine passions for art and design with accessible communication of favourite topics.
When COVID arrived in the UK in the first months of 2020, I stepped back into the clinical domain to support service delivery, and have contributed to the team enterprise in laboratory microbiology, evaluating, optimising and delivering serological testing and diagnostics. Despite the many huge challenges of the pandemic, it has been inspiring to participate in and witness the high-speed, diverse, inter-disciplinary and world-leading science that has emerged from Oxford.
What is the most meaningful aspect of your work?
I feel privileged to work at the interface between clinical and research domains, where application of molecular biology, epidemiology, immunology, genetics, and bioinformatics can directly inform care provision for our patients, feeding improvements in prevention, surveillance, diagnosis and management of infection. Working in a huge interdisciplinary team during the COVID outbreak has echoed my early career experiences in Malawi, testifying to the immediate, lived, practical impact of scientific advances across global communities.
Can you tell us about something you’ve done, contributed to that you’re most proud of?
Pride in individual achievements does not have much place in the context of a pandemic, but I am proud to be part of the clinical and scientific community in Oxford, adding my own small building blocks to the collaborative pathways that will lead us out of this crisis. I do also take pride in my own activities that can improve lives by driving incremental improvements in clinical care and advocacy for those affected by HBV in South Africa, supporting the career development of junior colleagues and collaborators, tackling inequity, or inspiring awareness and passion for science.
What changes would you most like to see in the Medical Sciences in the next 100 years?
There will have to be multi-dimensional paradigm shifts in the next decades. I hope that changes are bigger and better than currently imagined, and that they are strategically informed - rather than being eclipsed – by the disasters through which we are living.
Two issues stand out. First, without a priority focus on climate change, the next century and the one beyond it will not be survived by many. Climate has to be top of our global health agenda, not an optional cherry on the cake. Meanwhile, deep, systematic inequity is so ingrained in our view of ‘normal’ that it is shamefully overlooked, sidelined or dismissed. Secondly, therefore, Medical Sciences must step up to tackle equity, diversity and inclusion as being fundamentally and universally requisite to progress. This is not just a moral imperative, but a fact about what humanity must do to survive and flourish.
These two issues are interlinked, as without true global collaboration and diversity of representation, we will be unable to tackle humanitarian disasters of either disease or climate. And such catastrophe will be all the more inevitable, frequent and devastating if we fail to change. The time to start is now, as we look to rebuilding a post-pandemic society.