New Chair of Global Health appointed in the Institute of Applied Health Research

Professor Justine Davies, a researcher, editor and clinician, joins the University of Birmingham from Kings College London. With a keen interest in non-communicable diseases and surgically treatable conditions and their necessary health system structures, Professor Davies is also working towards improved data collection for health system planning. 

What attracted you to the University of Birmingham?

The internal and external collaborative approach that the University takes in undertaking global health work was a primary interest. For example, the University's NIHR Global Health Research Unit on Global Surgery is an exemplar of how to ensure real engagement with researchers in lower and middle income countries when designing a research program.

That the University is confident enough to look outside of its own walls for solutions is highly important to me, given my work is in a field of complex problems requiring collaborative networks to solve. Additionally, the ethos of the University of doing research that has tangible impact, benefitting individuals and society as a primary driver is wonderful. 

I am also originally from Birmingham, and am looking forward to coming home after a long absence!

How will you work with colleagues?

My interest is in health systems in lower and middle income countries, in particular in sub-Saharan Africa. The overall aim of the research that I do is to provide the evidence to inform where health systems need to develop in order to serve the needs of their populations.

This involves looking at the health of the population and their health system from many different angles. For example, investigating the prevalence of disease, assessing whether people with prevalent disease are accessing treatment, ascertaining the success of that treatment, asking users of systems what their experiences are, examining health system preparedness to provide care, and doing economic assessments of the costs of change. This work will therefore require engagement with many colleagues in a variety of disciplines and I really look forward to doing high quality interdisciplinary research with the many talented academics at the University.

What will you bring to the role of Chair of Global Health?

My aspiration is to do research that effects a change in health policy. Thus, projects that myself and colleagues work on all have a policy question in mind. I spent many years working at The Lancet, latterly, as Editor in Chief of Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology. One of the first question editors of these journals ask when seeing a submitted manuscript is, 'What is its clinical or policy impact?' When I start any project that question is now at the forefront of my mind when selecting areas to research and rejecting those that may be of lesser impact.

What do you consider to be your greatest achievement to date?

Starting the Lancet Commission on Global Surgery and working on it with some excellent and passionate colleagues, including John Meara, Andy Leather and Lars Hagander, has to be the highlight of my career; Andy and I happened to be sitting next to each other at a conference on global surgery, where there were some great ideas being presented, but not enough joined up thinking for our liking. Rather than moaning about this state of affairs we decided to start a Lancet Commission.

Our team worked incredibly hard, was highly inclusive and collaborative, and managed to produce a ground-breaking report on the subject, which has helped to put surgery firmly on the academic and policy global health map. The process was also highly enjoyable and there is nothing that I like better in my work life than meeting up with colleagues from this Commission and discussing new ideas.

What is your motivation for getting up in the morning?

On the personal front, speaking with my husband, walking my dogs, riding my wonderful horse, and playing the violin in quartets. On the work front, discussing ideas with tremendous colleagues and coming up with solutions to answer interesting and important questions that could help so many people in countries with fragile healthcare systems.

Find out more