In the news – media highlights 2016

School research and expert comment have been making headlines around the world in 2016. Here are some of our top stories from the year.

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Zika virus outbreak

The Zika virus and its associated health effects have had a devastating impact in 2016. Experts from the School have been actively involved in responding to the outbreak, carrying out research into areas including the links with microcephaly, vector control methods, outbreak mapping, and potential vaccines, treatments and diagnostics.

Our experts have also been at the forefront of providing information and interviews in the media, with more than 9,000 articles on Zika mentioning the School and our researchers this year. There have been 7 UK front page stories on Zika which have included our experts, plus two front pages in the New York Times and one in the Wall Street Journal. As the Zika outbreak unfolded, Prof Laura Rodrigues, who was carrying out Zika research in Recife, Brazil, gave many high-profile media interviews. These included appearances on BBC Panorama, PBS Newshour, BBC Newsnight, Channel 4 News, BBC National news and many more.

Prof Peter Piot, Prof Jimmy Whitworth, Dr James Logan, Prof Rosanna Peeling and Dr Laith Yakob were among other School experts who provided comment on Zika stories to numerous high profile outlets in the UK and worldwide. Broadcast highlights include CNN (in March and August), BBC Radio 4 Today programme, BBC World Service , BBC World TV, BBC News Channel, NPR, ITV News, and This Morning.

Key Zika research from the School that has made headlines includes a study co-authored by Dr Oliver Brady in The Lancet Infectious Diseases, which used climate and air travel maps to identify countries at greatest risk of Zika. It found 2.6 billion people across the globe may be vulnerable to Zika virus outbreaks, with countries including India, Indonesia and Nigeria most at risk. The study generated more than 1,670 pieces of coverage around the world including BBC News, The Independent, The Washington PostVoxMetro, NewsweekThe Indian Express and The Japan Times. Dr Brady was interviewed live on BBC Radio 4 Today programme, Sky News, Channel News Asia and CNN International. Dr Adam Kucharski also offered insight into the modelling study, interviewing on the BBC Victoria Derbyshire programme and BBC News Channel.

Prof Laura Rodrigues’ work also made the news, when she and colleagues published preliminary findings from a case-control study in Brazil. The research, in The Lancet Infectious Diseases, proved that in utero Zika virus infection caused microcephaly in newborn babies. This led to more than 150 pieces of international coverage including Washington Post, BBC Brasil, Daily Mail and Reuters. Prof Rodrigues was also interviewed in a feature in The New York Times investigating the alarming spread of the virus and the rising number of microcephaly cases across Brazil.

The School’s Prof David Heymann made several announcements throughout the year in his role as Chair of the World Health Organization’s Emergency Committee on Zika, generating thousands of articles.

Shockingly low progress on ending preventable stillbirths

In January, a major new series of research led by Prof Joy Lawn revealed that 2.6 million stillbirths still occur globally each year, with slow progress being made to tackle the problem. The Ending Preventable Stillbirths Series, published in The Lancet, also highlighted the previously underappreciated psychological, social and economic impacts of stillbirth.

The research was reported by media in 80 countries with almost 1,000 pieces of online coverage including BBC News, BBC Mundo, Wall Street Journal (£), The Guardian, The Times (£), Daily Mail, NPR, Times of India, nine articles in the Huffington Post, and four in the South China Morning Post.

It was featured on more than 300 TV and radio stations worldwide, including ITV News, BBC World TV, Al Jazeera English, Voice of America and BBC Radio World Service, Sky News, Channel 4 News and BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour.  The story led to numerous editorials in national newspapers in Pakistan and UK (£), and the School’s Dr Matthew Chico and Prof Rosanna Peeling wrote pieces for Thomson Reuters and Huffington Post. We produced some short films linked to the research which included an interview with Prof Lawn, and with two women – one in the UK and one in Malawi – who had both experienced a stillbirth.

The research generated lots of discussion on social media, with more than 3,500 posts on Twitter, Facebook and other social media forums, generating more than 45 million impressions.

Statins controversy linked to rise in UK patients stopping the treatment

A study published by Prof Liam Smeeth, Dr Krishnan Bhaskaran and colleagues in the BMJ made the front page of the Daily Mail in June. The research found that a period of intense debate about statins, covered widely in the mainstream media, was followed by a substantial rise in the proportion of people in the UK stopping taking the drug. The study highlighted the potential public health impact of high profile health stories in the media.

The authors took part in a press conference about the findings and Prof Smeeth was interviewed for ITV national lunchtime and evening news, while Dr Bhaskaran spoke to BBC Radio London. In addition to the Daily Mail front page, which urged readers ‘Don’t give up your statins’, print and online coverage included The GuardianThe IndependentThe TimesDaily ExpressThe Daily TelegraphThe SunDaily Mirror, and via the Press Association to more than 300 outlets worldwide.

Later in the year, School research into statins made news again, when a major review was published in The Lancet. Co-authored by Prof Smeeth, the study reviewed the available evidence on the safety and efficacy of statins and found that the benefits of the drugs have been underestimated and the harms exaggerated. This also received significant media coverage, with articles appearing in the Daily Mail, Daily ExpressCNNInternational Business Times and CBS News.

The STATIN Wise trial, led by Prof Smeeth made the front page of the Daily Express. The new trial aims to determine whether muscle pain symptoms occurring during statin use are caused by the drug.

Distressing sexual problems reported by young people in Britain

In August, new research led by Dr Kirstin Mitchell and Prof Kaye Wellings into sexual problems among young people was published in the Journal of Adolescent Health. It showed that around one in ten young men and one in eight young women in Britain who are sexually active have experienced a distressing sexual problem lasting over three months in the past year. Climaxing, erectile dysfunction and lack of interest in sex were the main issues reported with very few young people seeking professional help about their sex lives.

The study was the lead story on the BBC Newsbeat site, and was also among the top 10 most popular stories on the main BBC News site that day.

Dr Mitchell was interviewed for an in-depth piece on Newsbeat’s programme on BBC Radio 1 and 1Xtra, and she also appeared on BBC Radio Scotland. In total, there were over 150 articles covering the research, including Vice, The Guardian (plus Guardian Opinion), The Independenti newsDaily Mail, Huffington Post UK, MetroNewsweek, Broadly, Men’s Fitness, BBC Mundo and RT.com.

European region most sceptical in the world on vaccine safety

Results from the largest ever global survey of vaccine confidence, mapping attitudes across 67 countries, were published in September. The study, led by Dr Heidi Larson as part of the Vaccine Confidence Project, surveyed 66,000 people to discover their views on whether vaccines are important, safe, effective and compatible with their religious beliefs.

The European region had seven of the ten countries in the global sample that were the least confident in vaccine safety. France was the country least confident in safety, with 41% of those surveyed disagreeing that vaccines are safe, more than three times the global average of 12%.

The survey generated coverage in more than 230 outlets worldwide including The Financial Times (£), Daily Mirror, New Scientist, Reuters, El País (Spain), Süddeutsche Zeitung (Germany), Vox, Scientific American, Voice of America, Humanosphere, Science Magazine, Fox News and NPR. There was particular media interest in France, the most sceptical country on vaccine safety, with a big story in Le Monde, plus other pieces including Le Figaro, L’Express and 20 Minutes.

Co-author Will Schulz also wrote a blog for the Huffington Post on the results of the survey and vaccine hesitancy.

Women around the world leaving health facilities too soon after giving birth

Research published in PLOS Medicine in March, led by Prof Oona Campbell, found that a substantial proportion of women in countries around the world do not stay in health facilities for long enough after giving birth, which could result in them receiving inadequate postnatal care. The study featured on the front page of the Daily Mail, who reported the finding that among high-income countries, women in the UK stay in childbirth facilities for the shortest period of time after singleton vaginal births.

There were more than 240 news articles worldwide, including The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph (plus Daily Telegraph comment piece), Daily Mirror, Reuters US, Press Association, Huffington Post  SciDev.net, and ABC (Spain).

Prof Campbell appeared on LBC Radio and the study was also covered by the BBC Radio 4 Today programme and regional BBC radio stations across the UK.

UK global health team ready to respond to disease outbreaks in 48 hours

In November, it was announced the School had been chosen to jointly run the new UK Public Health Rapid Support Team in partnership with Public Health England. The £20 million initiative, funded by the UK Government, means there is a team of health experts who can be deployed anywhere in the world to tackle disease outbreaks that have the potential to develop into major health emergencies. When not responding to a disease outbreak, the team will research how best to deal with different types of outbreak scenario as well as training a group of public health reservists so the UK maintains the capability to rapidly scale up its efforts.

Public Health Minister Nicola Blackwood visited the School to mark the launch, where she met with key people involved in the team and visited our insectaries and labs.

The launch generated widespread media interest, with Prof Peter Piot appearing on BBC Radio 4 Today programme and BBC World Service Radio, while Prof Jimmy Whitworth spoke to BBC Radio Wales. Dr Hilary Bower, member of the deployable team, appeared in the BBC Breakfast TV studio, and also spoke to BBC Radio 5 Live Breakfast.  The story was also covered on news bulletins on BBC Breakfast, BBC Radio 5 Live, ITV Good Morning Britain, and BBC Radio London.

Online coverage included BBC NewsITV News and an article by the Press Association which led to coverage in the Daily MailHerald ScotlandBT.comAOL and across at least 130 regional UK outlets. A video interview with Peter Piot was also hosted by YahooMSN and the Belfast Telegraph.

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