Month: April 2022

My reflections on World Health Day: Our planet, our health

by Georgia McGlasson |

Every year since 1948, on April 7th the World Health Organisation (WHO) celebrates World Health Day in an attempt to bring awareness to a particular global health issue. I can’t help but think that they must’ve felt very spoilt for choice earlier this month. Previous years have focused on topics such as health equality, depression, and diabetes. This year’s theme is a big one: “Our planet, our health”.

It’s hard for me to know where to start with such an all-encompassing topic of health, but it doesn’t feel right to recognise World Health Day without mentioning the health emergency that just 2 years ago led to lockdowns across the globe. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, many people have been forced to deal with a reality they never thought possible. Each of us has been impacted by the pandemic, whether that be through loss of loved ones, financial insecurity or increased social isolation. Despite this, I’ve noticed many positives throughout the pandemic. In the early days of lockdown, I was in awe of the 436,000 NHS volunteers who risked their health to ensure the safety of vulnerable people, despite uncertainty about the virus being at its height. On top of this, several vaccines were developed in record-breaking time,1 a huge triumph for the scientific community. To me, this is proof that when people work together we can achieve things thought to be impossible.

According to the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, it is “almost inevitable” that temperatures will rise above the 1.5°C aim agreed in the Paris Agreement, resulting in irreversible climate breakdown.2 It’s estimated that half of the global population live in areas “highly vulnerable” to climate change even at current levels of heating, and mass die-offs of species are already under way.2 We have a colossal challenge on our hands if we want to prevent a catastrophic global health crisis. It is a challenge that is going to require individuals, organisations, and governments to work together to find a solution. Although the data are clear and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, it’s important to remember what can be achieved when humans work together, as demonstrated by our response to the pandemic. We all have our part to play and we have to work together.

The environmental benefits of the pandemic give us a unique insight into the types of things we need to do to curb carbon emissions; fewer people driving to work or flying overseas for business meetings or holidays meant that global carbon emissions fell by 8.8% in the first half of 2020.3 Naturally, as vaccines allowed us to return to ‘normal’ and restrictions were eased, carbon levels started to rise again to pre-pandemic levels.4 However, this does not mean that all progress is lost. More organisations have learned to adopt more flexibility when it comes to working from home, and platforms such as Zoom have retained a large customer use for business meetings.5 Throughout the areas of my life, I am hearing more people talk about what they are doing to reduce their carbon footprint, which fills me with hope. A shift in what’s ‘normal’ is exactly what we need to improve the health of our planet, and to ensure the safety and survival of generations to come.

At Makara, we are constantly adapting to new challenges and seeking innovative solutions. When it comes to the turbulent times of the pandemic, with an existing home-working structure in place and a holistic approach to employee health and wellbeing, Makara was well equipped to deal with the challenge. As a reputable and rapidly growing company, we have a respectable sphere of influence within the healthcare industry. I am proud to see initiatives such as the virtual forest, where hundreds of trees will be planted by Makara to support the health of the planet and increase awareness of this important issue. Continuing efforts such as these will have both direct and indirect environmental benefits, as we encourage and inspire each other to think more proactively about the environment.

The WHO has produced a really informative and inspirational video for World Health Day that I’d highly recommend giving a watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9HV4hkX5NxI or you can read more here: https://www.who.int/campaigns/world-health-day/2022#

If you want to read more about how you can further help the environment, Imperial College London have put together a useful guide: https://www.imperial.ac.uk/stories/climate-action/

References

  1. Brothers W. A Timeline of COVID-19 Vaccine Development. BioSpace. 2022 [cited 5 April 2022]. Available from: https://www.biospace.com/article/a-timeline-of-covid-19-vaccine-development/
  2. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. 2022. Available from: https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar6/wg2/
  3. Liu Z et al. Near-real-time monitoring of global CO2 emissions reveals the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Nature Communications. 2020;11. Available from: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-020-18922-7
  4. Tollesfson J. Carbon emissions rapidly rebounded following COVID pandemic dip. Nature.com. 2022 [cited 5 April 2022]. Available from: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-03036-x
  5. ‘This Could Have Been a Zoom Meeting’: Companies Rethink Travel. Nytimes.com. 2022 [cited 5 April 2022]. Available from: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/31/business/business-travel.html

Seeing the wood for the trees: Patients are the real story

by Matt Wheeler |

As a medical writer, it’s easy to get caught up in the nuts and bolts. Accuracy, readability and a clear, concise story (usually revolving around scientific data) are paramount. Of course, the understanding that the patient is at the core of the whole narrative, its reason for being, is never lost; but if you’re reviewing a 90-slide PowerPoint consisting of Kaplan-Meier curves, forest plots and adverse event tables, in reality, at least in my own experience, sometimes it’s hard to see the wood for the trees.

A few years ago I gave a ‘Lunch and Learn’ presentation titled ‘Powerful Patients’ to colleagues. I wanted to talk about people who had been through extraordinarily difficult experiences with their medical conditions, but had also achieved incredible things as patient advocates and role models.

There are two in particular that I still think of often, not necessarily because I’ve been involved in working with a medicine for their particular condition, but due to their achievements and zest for life. If you’ve worked with me before, you can probably guess who they are! Their incredible resolve has kept me going on tough days when that reference pack just isn’t coming together…

I hope that you find their stories as inspiring as I do.

Claire Wineland

Claire was born with cystic fibrosis in Austin, Texas in 1997. A few days after her 13th birthday, after a routine surgery, she developed septicaemia leading to full lung failure. Given only a 1% chance of survival, she emerged from a medically-induced coma after 16 days.

She would stay in the hospital for three months, during which time she decided to found ‘Claire’s Place Foundation’ to provide support to children and families affected by cystic fibrosis.

Claire would go on to be a prominent voice in the cystic fibrosis community, doing a number of Ted Talks – this one when she was just 14!

She was also part of my personal favourite healthcare communications campaign, Breathless Choir (winner of the Grand Prix in Pharma prize at the Lions Health awards in 2016).

Sadly, following a double lung transplant in 2018, Claire passed away due to complications at the age of 21. Her legacy continues to live on through her foundation. Shortly afterwards she was the subject of a documentary film that is also on YouTube, a tribute to a young person wise beyond their years, who undoubtedly had an enormous amount more to give.

Deborah James

Deborah was diagnosed with Stage IV bowel cancer in 2016, at the age of 35. I first heard of her as a member of the You, Me and the Big C podcast on the BBC, originally with herself, Lauren Mahon and Rachael Bland (who sadly passed away in 2018), discussing their lives with cancer and exploring many issues such as mental health, fertility and chemotherapy. Their informal and welcoming style has given a real community feel for people living with cancer, and the podcast continues to this day.

Deborah has been through an absolute litany of treatments and procedures, as anyone who follows her popular Instagram account, @bowelbabe, will know. She writes for a number of national newspapers and fundraises alongside major UK cancer charities, and has a best selling book, ‘F*** You Cancer’, a self-help guide to living your best life with cancer.

She has also been instrumental in helping bring new treatments to patients in the UK, acting as a case study for NICE submission as part of a clinical trial.

Her resolve and persistence in the face of adversity, still determined to help others, is amazing.

Hope is a powerful theme in healthcare communications, and both of these inspiring people have been determined to tell its story. That shared ideal only reinforces our job as creators to make sure that patients are always the focus of our work, weaving a narrative around the backbone of data to form a whole.

When East meets West: What I have learnt from working in two different worlds

by Thuy Linh Bui |

Since the very first moment I arrived at Heathrow airport to begin my journey in the UK a year ago, my life has been a roller coaster of emotions. My formal education and work experiences have been deeply grounded in eastern values and principles, which makes moving and working in a western, multicultural country not only exciting but also nerve-racking, not to mention pressured and alienating.

Cultural differences…

Obviously language was a barrier for me at first. Having studied in an international environment and achieving a decent IELTS score of 8.0 could not guarantee my effective communication with colleagues. I struggled to understand different English accents, absorb medical terms and transition my ideas into words fluently. Even though I had a few years’ experience working in Public Relations in Vietnam, it felt like starting all over again, especially when I jumped from doing PR for the consumer/tech industry to healthcare, a highly specialist sector in which I had no background.

My colleagues were super friendly and welcoming, but I also found that politeness is the key for business communication here and maintaining pleasantries like saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ is extremely important, which sometimes gives me a bit of pressure. Vietnamese people do not say ‘thank you’ as much as westerners, and it is totally common if you say ‘thank you’ in Vietnam and do not receive any response.

Another significant difference between two workplace cultures is that: while asking questions is a standard practice in the west, it does not come naturally to a deeply rooted Asian employee like me. When I was in Vietnam, questioning the ideas and viewpoints of senior team members  was often frowned upon and we must be extremely careful and sensitive whenever discussing any issues with seniors. Therefore, it took me a while to gradually embrace the differences, adapt and be more open, honest and no longer hesitate to ask questions whenever needed.

And…. here comes the joy!

Hard work and long hours have always been the standard in our eastern working culture and I used to normalise working overtime and bringing work home. Leaving work at 5.30pm, which was the time that I was supposed to, might even create gossip around the office and my ex-colleagues would think about me as being lazy and not a team player. For that reason, working at Makara Health has been a gamechanger. Everyone in our company constantly strives for work-life balance. My line manager used to call me out for a discussion when I sent an email late at night, just to make sure I wasn’t working overtime unnecessarily. It goes without saying that Makara promotes a holistic understanding of performance, always encouraging healthy working hours and sustainable methods of working.

What is even more exciting is that even before the pandemic, many employees at Makara could already choose whether they would prefer to work full-time remotely, from the office or a combination of the two. The majority of employees at our company, especially the account-handling team, are used to agile working with flexible work hours. Speaking myself, I am a PR and Communications Assistant living in Bournemouth who used to work two days in the office and three days at home, but have recently switched into working remotely full-time.

My stressful commutes have been swapped for morning yoga and instead of having quick sandwiches at my desk, I spend the lunch break in my kitchen away from my closed laptop, giving my brain a chance to recharge and allow me to come back feeling energised to tackle the rest of my day. I believe that where you work is not nearly as important as getting the job done. I’m flattered that Makara understands the effectiveness of remote work and trusts me to deliver from any location. Adding remote work into our company dynamics has successfully created a team of talented people from different locations.

What more could I want? I have a workplace environment that promotes diversity and inclusion, a globally minded leader who supports their diverse employees, and an amazing team who support each other to reach their full potential. No one in my team speaks Vietnamese, but they understand where I am coming from. They never celebrate Lunar New Year, but they shared the joy and excitement with me. I made mistakes, but they are more than happy to a give me great advice and constructive feedback. Our company culture has successfully and undoubtedly drawn colleagues from diverse cultures closer.

All in all, working anywhere in the world comes with its own benefits and downfalls and ultimately it is up to each of us to decide what suits our personality and working style. Although my life in the UK has been a rollercoaster, I have managed to enjoy the ride and happily landed on my feet with unforgettable memories, and supportive, warm-hearted people around.