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A New Chapter for Polygeia

After almost two and half years as Polygeia’s Director it is time for the talented Inesa Rozenman to take up leadership of the organisation while I move to chair the Non-Executive Board. Inesa will be introducing herself and her motivation for working with Polygeia in a subsequent post. This provides a good opportunity to look back on Polygeia’s development to date and reflect on what the hard work of a group committed to improving global health has achieved.

Founding moments

Polygeia was founded in Cambridge in 2014 to give students an opportunity to apply their academic skills to practical problems in global health and to develop their research and policy-making skills. From the very first round of recruitment with co-founder Hari Jeyabelen, I was struck by the passion and talent of our researchers. Their enthusiasm and drive was on full display at the inaugural conference in November 2014 at St John’s College Cambridge where they presented papers covering five research themes: Neglected Tropical Diseases, Antimicrobial Drugs, Mental Health, Global Health Partnerships, and Sexual and Reproductive Health. The conference was a fantastic opportunity to open a dialogue with some key figures in global health and enabled us to form our Advisory Board of Dr Lorenzo Savioli, Professor Alan Fenwick and Jeremy Lefroy MP.

Several teams have subsequently published their research. Papers covering the threat of antimicrobial resistance and the balance between access and affordability of antimicrobials have been published in the Cambridge Medicine Journal. A systematic review on interventions to reduce the public health impact of falsified medicines is currently under peer review. Another paper evaluating the success of short mental health training courses recommended by the WHO in 2010 will be submitted for publication later this year.

Development in 2015

As well as seeing expansion to London and Oxford, 2015 brought our exciting collaborations with the Africa All Party Parliamentary Group, Action Against Hunger, Lepra UK, C3 Health and Medic Mobile. Working with such inspiring external organisations enables Polygeia’s research teams to draw on their extensive experience to focus on research that is both within Polygeia’s research capacity and important for the organisation’s work, giving the researchers the satisfaction they are making a real contribution to the field. However, I have also been impressed by the ability of our internal project teams to seek out interest from NGOs – for example, the women’s health team last year formed a link with FORWARD UK after starting their research on obstetric fistulae. To read some of the reports from these projects, such as the report on the Ebola crisis that we recently presented at the House of Commons, have a look at the links above.

Since Ana Bow-Bertrand founded our blog in March 2014, our researchers have been regular contributors. It gives them an opportunity to showcase an element of their ongoing research or to write on significant current events in global health. The blog has rapidly developed into one of the best showcases for our projects and covers a wide array of topics from the role of exercise in improving mental health to the importance of improving access to basic surgery

Recent progress

After winning a year in the Social Incubator East, an organisation that supports the growth of social enterprises, we have been focusing on ensuring Polygeia’s sustainability. With this in mind, we have recruited a Non-Executive Board, have secured our first paid work with the Global Health Exchange (for a project on healthcare students’ attitudes towards global health in their curricula) and will be applying for a series of grants over the summer. Our aim is to employ a member of staff to act as project manager for our existing projects and to expand our portfolio of clients.

We already have a series of exciting pieces of work underway in 2016, such as work with FORWARD UK on the changing practice of FGM amongst African women in the UK and with Healark, an organisation that gives evidence-based personal lifestyle guidance to cancer patients, on establishing the best methods of supportive care for cancer patients in order to increase their autonomy and improve their outcome. Moreover, Inesa Rozenman, the incoming Director, has led her training team to develop and deliver an expanded and improved programme of workshops, including two sessions from Costello Medical, a Cambridge-based medical consultancy.

Some specific thanks

It would be impossible to do any justice here to the outstanding contributions from all the people who have been involved with Polygeia over the past few years. The sheer amount of time given over to all the research projects is phenomenal. Nevertheless, there are a few people who deserve specific mention for their work.

David Neal has been an institution in Polygeia since the beginning. Instrumental in attracting high-profile guests for our first conference, he proceeded to develop our relationships with external organisations and, with me, to pitch successfully and win a year with the Social Incubator East. I very much look forward to continuing to work with him on the Non-Executive Board. It is still a source of amazement to me how David manages to combine clinical medicine, Polygeia and an interest in creative writing.

As co-founder, Hari Jeyabelen looked after the logistical side of the organisation for almost two years and, along with David, much of Polygeia’s current success is down to his hard work. He has approached our long and often late meetings with great humour and been a stalwart problem-solver throughout.

Siobhan Botwright and Toby McMaster contributed to our first round of research and then oversaw all of Polygeia’s projects in 2015 as Editors-in-Chief – they offered advice, editorial support and kept the teams on task with consummate professionalism. Feedback from the individual team leaders was unanimous in praising their leadership and I look forward to seeing their inevitably successful careers develop.

Ana Bow-Bertrand established and edited the blog for two years and deserves full credit for making it the high-quality, vibrant collection of articles it is today. She will be a fantastic asset wherever she chooses to work after her year of global health at UCL.

The editors of the initial projects in 2014 did a great deal to establish our reputation – David and Toby have been mentioned but Will Hamilton, Tessa Stewart, Dan Fountain, Jill McKenna and Silja Voolma played a key role in those early months.

One of the most rewarding parts of being involved from the start of Polygeia has been seeing the development of some people who are now in their third year of working with us. Samara Linton stands out as one of these people – her most recent achievements include managing the Africa APPG Ebola team with Tom Hird and running the London branch of Polygeia. Similarly Cassie Fairhead has moved from research to co-editor of our Medic Mobile team in 2015 and finally to Editor-in-Chief with Nicola Love this year. Rhys Wenlock has been another staunch member who has inspired with his enthusiasm. He worked on one of the antimicrobial drugs papers and the Africa APPG Ebola project before taking up his current role as Cambridge Branch Editor. All three are exceptionally talented and I hope they will continue working with us – Polygeia will be very much better for it.

In November 2015 Fawz Kazzazi moved into the Director of Policy role and Paul Tern and Mohammed Abdelaziz started as Deputy Directors. It has been hugely impressive how quickly all three have taken complete ownership of their roles and responsibilities. They have significantly reduced the administrative burden of the Directorship and are taking up their own strategic projects within the organisation. I look forward to seeing what they achieve with Inesa.

Last but by no means least I would like to thank all the organisations we have worked with over the past two years. Our researchers value the trust invested in them when they take on an external project and it adds a relevance to our research that is absolutely essential. I hope that these relationships continue to develop and prove as mutually beneficial in the future as they have been so far.

Future directions

I would like see Polygeia develop a reputation for producing high-quality, meaningful research that is of tangible benefit to a wide variety of external organisations. I would like Polygeia’s future expansion to be international. Progress has started on this with the recent recruitment of a New York branch and in future I hope we can include the lower-income countries that are disproportionately affected by the issues we work on. Finally, I hope to see Polygeia building the talents of the next generation of global health leaders. A brief glance at the progress of some of our recent members would suggest they are already well on their way to significant contributions to the field.

It has been an absolute privilege and pleasure to work with such a talented group of people over the past few years. It has been inspirational to see teams of researchers united by the motivation to make a meaningful contribute to global health. Along with David Neal, I will be starting work as a junior doctor in July and am moving to the Non-Executive Board to ensure continuity of leadership and to help support Inesa and the organisation over the next few years. I am delighted to be handing over to someone in whose abilities I have absolute confidence – I am excited to see how much Inesa and her team will achieve in the coming years.


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