Health research at the public health forefront

Health research(ers) at the public health forefront

Woman wearing a mask while running

Health is at the very centre of the COVID-19 pandemic, and our people are doing all they can to contribute their knowledge and expertise in the areas that matter most. Staff and students at Glasgow Caledonian University are putting their skills to best use for the benefit of everyone. As well as staff and students having joined the frontline in hospitals and communities, we have undertaken research and advisory roles on topics ranging from infection prevention, effective contact tracing and hand hygiene to nurse resilience and immunity testing. 

You can read through more detailed examples of our contributions in this area within the sections below.

Influencing global health policy and research excellence

​Professor Sebastien Chastin has played a key role in developing new World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines on physical activity and sedentary behaviour launched today (Thursday, November 26).

The esteemed academic in health behaviour dynamics, based in the School of Health and Life Sciences' Department of Physiotherapy, said he felt "honoured" to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the greatest research groups in the world to develop the new set of universal guidelines.

WHO said that up to five million deaths a year could be averted if the global population was more active and that the guidelines were even more important now that so many people are home bound due to COVID-19.

The 'Every Move Counts' guidelines emphasise that everyone, of all ages and abilities, can be physically active and that every type of movement counts. WHO recommends at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity per week for all adults, including people living with chronic conditions or disability, and an average of 60 minutes per day for children and adolescents.

Professor Chastin was on the expert panel that put the guidelines together and he is particularly proud that the guidelines are universal and include limiting sedentary behaviour. 

SHIP team sails across new horizons to reach out to communities during the pandemic

​GCU’s Safeguarding Health through Infection Prevention (SHIP) research group has risen to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic by finding new and inventive ways to reach out to our communities.

To mark World Antimicrobial Awareness Week (WAAW) from November 18-24, the researchers have been blogging and organising events to spread the word about the importance of hand hygiene.

They have organised a virtual Bug Hunt on November 27 for pupils at Saracen Primary in Glasgow to encourage the next generation of scientists and health researchers, as a part of the European Researcher’s Night Explorathon 2020 event.

Pupils will be treated to a ‘See your own microbes’ activity where they get to use household items such as pencils, sticky tape and water to make homemade microscopes to help them understand how small things appear larger using equipment like a microscope.

In the ‘Make your own microbes’ activity, pupils will be given a petri dish containing play-dough colours and encouraged to reflect on what microbes look like and design their own.

There will also be a ‘Clean your hands’ activity featuring a demonstration of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) six steps of effective hand hygiene. The children will then be given the chance to perfect their knowledge of how to do these steps  in order.

Read the SHIP team’s latest blog, written by PhD student Lucy Gozdzielewska, to mark World Antimicrobial Awareness Week – link here.

COVID-19 public health response

​GCU School of Health and Life Sciences' Professors Sharon Hutchinson and David Goldberg have been at the heart of major research which has provided important epidemiological insights on COVID-19 to aid the public health response. 

Two research papers were recently published in prestigious journals. The studies were carried out at Public Health Scotland by the Epidemiology Research Cell, led by Professor Helen Colhoun at Edinburgh University and Professor Hutchinson, on behalf of the COVID-19 Intelligence, Research and Development Programme, chaired by Professor Goldberg.

The first was published in PLOS Medicine which showed that, along with being older and male, severe COVID-19 disease is strongly associated with past medical history across all age groups in Scotland.

The second paper published in the British Medical Journal found that healthcare workers and members of their household contributed a sixth of COVID-19 cases admitted to hospital among working age adults in Scotland during the first wave.

View the PLOS Medicine research paper entitled 'Rapid Epidemiological Analysis of Comorbidities and Treatments as risk factors for COVID-19 in Scotland (REACT-SCOT): A population-based case-control study' here and the British Medical Journal paper entitled 'Risk of hospital admission with coronavirus disease 2019 in healthcare workers and their households: nationwide linkage cohort study' here.

Health economics and COVID-19

Professor Cam Donaldson recently gave the latest in the Resilience and Reconstruction Speaker Series of talks presented by The Center for Social Impact and Innovation at GCNYC. 

Yunus Chair and Pro Vice Chancellor Research, Professor Donaldson reflected on his personal journey as a health economist through the pandemic and exploring COVID-19's impact on health economics. As well as discussing how health economics can contribute to recovery, Professor Donaldson shared his insights on how we can finance and provide health and social care as well as exploring ethical issues associated with testing and ventilation.

COVID-19 vaccine should be global common good

Nations and drug companies have been urged to put the patents for a COVID-19 vaccine in the public domain for the good of humanity.

The pharmaceutical industry, and its university partners, should make the potential vaccine available to all countries without priority or exclusivity and put the "global common good" ahead of profit, according to leading health economists.

Writing in The Lancet Healthy Longevity, health economist Professor Cam Donaldson, Yunus Chair at Glasgow Caledonian University, outlines the dangers of countries acting in their own self-interest in the race to find a vaccine.

In an article, co-written with Nobel Peace Laureate and GCU Emeritus Chancellor Professor Muhammad Yunus, he states: "As the virus knows no geographic boundaries, we have to act to help each other.

"Scientific consensus is that the only way this pandemic will be eradicated is through the vaccination of all people worldwide.

"It is, therefore, important to recognise this in our policy actions to avoid the tragedy of the commons, in which selfish behaviour leads to adverse communal outcomes. This is true for countries as well as individuals.

"We call for the response to COVID-19 to be global in deeds as well as words and based on principles of equal and universal access to treatments and vaccines.

"The mission, and driver, should not be one of profit but, rather the achievement of the widest and maximum health benefit possible."

Campaigners are urging vaccine research to be placed in the public domain and made available to any production facility that pledges to operate under strict international regulatory supervision.

Professor Donaldson added: "The funds required to mobilise around COVID-19 vaccines as a global common good are likely to pale into insignificance relative to what will be required to address on ongoing economic recession consequent on non-eradication.

"The collective reward for laboratories and researchers who contribute to the development of COVID-19 vaccines for the Common Good  would be the ability operate in more settled ‘markets’ and perhaps a Nobel Prize in Medicine, and even in Peace."

Health visiting students thrive on COVID-19 frontline

Department of Nursing and Community Health lecturer Bernadette Bradley has had an article in a prestigious journal published which gives a Scotland-wide perspective on the impact of COVID-19 on health visiting programmes. The article entitled 'Training and Adapting in a New World' was published in the Community Practitioners and Health Visitors Association (CPHVA) Community Practitioner Journal.

Bernadette explained that some universities paused their Community Public Health Nursing (Health Visiting) programmes to allow students to go back into clinical areas to help in the COVID-19 emergency.

Bernadette described how the students had grown during their time on the NHS frontline: "As the students resume, it is evident, irrespective of where they were redeployed, that they have developed additional and transferable knowledge and skills within areas such as public health and leadership and provided the opportunities for alternative practice experiences."

Bernadette wrote the article in collaboration with Alison Hackett, University of Stirling; Debbie Wilson, Robert Gordon University; Emma Hay-Higgins, Robert Gordon University; Fiona Stuart, University of the West of Scotland; Lisa Luhanga, Queen Margaret University; Dr Jean Cowrie, NHS Education Scotland.

GCU leads Scottish arm of major UK-wide COVID-19 immunity study

Glasgow Caledonian University's Professor Lesley Price is co-ordinating the Scottish arm of the UK-wide SIREN study, in partnership with Public Health Scotland, and working closely with National Research Scotland and the Chief Scientist Office. SIREN is a study testing 100,000 health workers, which will provide information on immunity from and prevalence of COVID-19 infection. The primary objective of the study is to determine whether the presence of COVID-19 antibodies is associated with a reduction in the subsequent risk of re-infection over the next year. The data will also be used to estimate the prevalence of COVID-19 infection in healthcare workers by region.

The resilience of nurses during COVID-19

Senior Lecturer in the Department of Nursing and Community Health Dr Nicola Roberts has just had a blog about on the resilience of nurses working in respiratory care during the COVID-19 pandemic published in a leading medical journal. In the BMJ Evidence-Based Nursing blog, the respiratory health researcher explains how the pandemic has had a huge impact on those working in respiratory clinical care. Dr Roberts also discusses some of the research that she and colleagues have been undertaking into improving how to deliver care to those with respiratory disease. The research was carried out in collaboration with colleagues at Glasgow Caledonian Univeristy (GCU), Solent University, University of Southampton, Edge Hill University and Sovereign Primary Care Network.

Dean joins the COVID-19 frontline

School of Health and Life Sciences Dean Professor Andrea Nelson has returned to the nursing frontline to help out on COVID-19Professor Nelson, a registered Adult Nurse, has been working alongside students, nurses and allied health professionals, including many GCU alumni, based at the NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde COVID-19 Community Assessment Centre (CAC) in north Glasgow.

Expert opinion to the Scottish Parliament

Professor Claudia Estcourt is providing expert opinion to the Scottish Parliament, Public Health England and the HM Government’s Chief Scientific Advisor on National Security on contact tracing for COVID-19.  This has resulted from Professor Estcourt’s renowned expertise, as exemplified in her recently-funded National Institute for Health Research Programme Grant for Applied Research (LUSTRUM, lustrum.org.uk), on preventing transmission of sexually transmitted infections through more effective contact tracing and management.

There are many parallels between the process for STIs and COVID-19. For example, Professor Estcourt’s current research includes programmes on 1) self-managed, digital healthcare, focussing on development and evaluation of complex online clinical care pathways, and 2) preventing transmission of sexually-transmitted infections (STIs) and reducing undiagnosed HIV by increasing effectiveness of partner notification strategies, developing tailored interventions for those at highest risk (lustrum.org.uk).

In the popular press, Professor Estcourt has also written in the Telegraph about the important issue of having sex during the pandemic.

COVID-19 eyesight survey

In early June 2020, Vision Scientists, Dr Mhairi Day and Dr Dirk Seidel, both registered Optometrists, have launched a survey to find out if COVID-19 affects the eyes.  It is believed to be the first survey of its kind in the UK and is being rolled out across other countries including China, US and Australia.

Hand hygiene study

Internationally, the Safeguarding Health through Infection Prevention (SHIP) Research Group is behind the launch of a hand hygiene study in Cameroon which has the potential to reduce the spread of infections in hospitals across Africa. The project "Building capacity for healthcare associated infection and antimicrobial resistance surveillance in Cameroon," is backed by £9,853 from the University's Global Challenges Research Funding. The study taking place in Banso Baptist Hospital is being conducted in collaboration with Infection Control Africa Network (ICAN) and supported by a donation of 1,500 bottles of hand sanitiser from Gama Healthcare. The first main aim of the project is to increase capacity for healthcare-associated infection and antimicrobial resistance surveillance in a setting with low resource by providing expert infection prevention and control training.

COVID-19 Cohort

As part of an ‘Intelligence & Research’ brief, led by GCU part-time Professor David GoldbergProfessor Sharon Hutchison has been drafted by Health Protection Scotland to work on establishing a ‘COVID-19 Cohort’. Sharon and colleagues are also being approached by various groups to participate in their studies (such as University College London, for a study on home testing).

Professor Jacqui Reilly, co-Lead of the Centre for Living ‘Safeguarding Health through Infection Prevention’ (SHIP) Research Group, is also Nurse Director at NHS National Services Scotland and Executive Lead for Quality Healthcare Associated Infection. Prof Reilly is intensively involved in NHS and Scottish Government planning in response to the current COVID-19 pandemic and will bring SHIP group research findings to bear in her thinking and leadership at this time, particularly in relation to handwashing technique and public and professional behaviour change in relation to infection prevention. 

Professor Claudia Estcourt is Clinical Professor of HIV and Sexual Health recently took up the post as joint Clinical Lead of NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde Sexual Health Services at the Sandyford Clinic.  During the COVID-19 crisis, Professor Estcourt has made several important contributions, such as in published advice for ensuring access to Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis for people at high risk of HIV.

Research at GCU

Research is instrumental in tackling society’s biggest problems. The health, social and economic challenges uncovered by COVID-19 brings into sharp focus our commitment to the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure peace and prosperity for all.
 

Sustainable Development Goals

These global goals reflect our ethos as the University for the Common Good and our mission to make a positive difference to the communities we serve. Read our institutional research strategy to find out more about our commitment to the SDGs during the COVID-19 pandemic, and beyond.

The icons below show which of the 17 SDGs we aim to impact through the research above.
 

UN SDG 3: Good Health and Wellbeing

Expert opinion to the Scottish Parliament

COVID-19 eyesight survey

Hand hygiene study