In 2018 Truro School was lucky enough to welcome back Professor Sharon Cox as Guest Speaker at the end of year Speech Day ceremony, when she recounted to students her career journey which has led to her current positions with the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and School of Tropical medicine & Global Health, Nagasaki University, Japan.
Naturally, the global pandemic and lockdown has affected Professor Cox’s work and her location.
“I am currently in Cornwall again, working from “home.” I was here for the first lockdown and stayed in the UK until I returned to Japan again for my teaching commitments in October 2020 which was then again face to face, unlike the UK. During April and May, I was teaching the students in Japan remotely, getting up at 4am to give my online lectures – but only one or two a week, so I can’t really complain.
I am not currently directly involved in the Covid response. I was part of two early, very multidisciplinary bids for funding to explore and compare social dynamics and health system responses to epidemics comparing 2 African countries with prior experience of Ebola with Philippines and China, but we didn’t get the funding due to vast numbers of applications – even with the short notice.
Since then I have been focused on trying to ensure that my ongoing research on TB in the Philippines was able to continue, supporting the field staff, the TB patients and the local TB programme staff. The extremely strict and ever-changing rules of community lockdowns in Philippines has had huge impacts on TB services (and our research).”
Although it will be very hard to clearly measure and demonstrate, Professor Cox fears this may result in greater long-term health impacts than COVID itself.
Professor Cox has another grant application under review to prospectively assess how TB infection, TB disease, diabetes and TB-diabetes may affect the risk of Covid infection and clinical disease in Filipino community members (i.e. rather than starting with hospital populations already with Covid disease). The research would also include some detailed work on innate immune responses to Covid, which would be quite novel. “But we won’t know the funding decision until April or May.”
“It does feel a bit frustrating that so much money and attention has been diverted to the pandemic, both for researchers and public health programmes. TB kills more people every year than any other single infectious disease – and yet we have the drugs and knowledge to treat and prevent it. More money has been spent in recent months on developing Covid vaccines than has ever been spent on an effective TB vaccine. The BCG vaccine is 100 years old this year and remains the only licenced vaccine for TB, yet it is not very effective against adult TB and really only protects against infant TB meningitis – which is important, but not enough. Only fifteen new TB vaccine candidates have entered human trials in the last 20-30 years compared to 63 for Covid, resulting in a record number of licenced vaccines in under a year.
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