Since the Coronavirus pandemic began affecting countries around the world, scientists – many of them Scottish, or working in Scotland - have played a critical role in our global response.
From helping our early understanding of the virus, to developing accurate testing and the all-important vaccine, these amazing individuals continue to break new ground every day – becoming pioneers along the way.
New faces, fresh voices
Over the course of the COVID-19 crisis, these women have helped to guide public health policy, reassure the public, and explain the scientific thinking behind the decisions Scottish and UK politicians have made.
While Scotland has made some real progress in this area, which we’re incredibly proud of, we know that there is still much work to be done, and a long way to go.
In this article we will highlight four leading female scientists and medics, who have helped guide health policy and aid public understanding, during the COVID-19 crisis.
Professor Linda Bauld
Edinburgh-born Professor Bauld, the public face of the COVID-19 response in Scotland, is a behavioural scientist with a PhD in social policy. Currently the Bruce and John Usher Chair of Public Health at Edinburgh University (the oldest Professorship of Public Health in the UK) she has been the go-to expert for many media outlets, to explain not only the dynamics of how the virus spreads, but what the public can do to help avoid infection.
With a background in the evaluation of complex public health interventions; and the use of evidence to inform health policy, she has conducted studies on drug and alcohol use, inequalities in health, obesity and, most notably, on smoking cessation and tobacco control. She undertook the first study of the UK's national stop smoking services when they were established in 1998. She has also played a significant role in the monitoring and evaluation of a range of tobacco control policies and served as the UK government's scientific adviser on tobacco control from 2006 to 2010.
Professor Bauld says: “During this health crisis it became clear that the public really wanted to hear different voices about what was going on and understand what the evidence was saying. It’s my role to follow what’s happening in relation to this pandemic, comment on and possibly critique decisions being made, and communicate the science.”
Dr Punam Kirshan
Dr Kirshan, a GP in the East End of Glasgow, describes herself as being "raised on curry and Irn-Bru". Her Indian-born parents arrived in Scotland from Punjab in the late 1970s. "We grew up in my dad's corner shop," she says. "It was ingrained in us that education was the key to freedom."
Medicine became an early front-runner thanks to her childhood family GP. "He was very much a role model for me from a young age because he was the core of our community," she says. "Everyone knew that if Dr Kauser saw them, they would be OK."
Now a familiar face on TV, a newspaper columnist, and with a huge following on social media, Dr Kirshan is a great believer in holistic care, and changing patients’ lifestyle habits.
She says: "I see a lot of poverty and patients living in social isolation, as well as drug misuse. It is quite a challenging population but equally it is a place where you can really make a big difference.
"Around 70 to 80 per cent of the things I see as a GP are lifestyle-related medical problems. It has become my passion to focus more on the lifestyle habits that people form.”
As a working GP, Dr Kirshan is currently concerned by the long-term effects and public health implications of ‘Long-COVID’.
Although not a familiar face on UK TV, Catherine, Senior Emergency Officer at the World Health Organisation Europe, has been helping to guide our continental friends and neighbours through the pandemic.
From vaccination programmes to outbreak monitoring, and cross-border travel advice, when she speaks, European health professionals and leaders listen.
Although mainly focussed on what is happening in the developed world, she has real concerns over how COVID is affecting in developing nations and how it can be controlled and monitored in them.
She says of the virus: “This requires a whole of society approach, involving communities as well as decision makers."
An Indian America public health researcher, Dr Sridar currently holds the Chair of Global Public Health at the University of Edinburgh. Her research, which has influenced the UK’s COVID response, considers the effectiveness of public health interventions. In 2014, she established the University’s Global Health Governance Programme, which she established in 2014.
Often critical of the political response to COVID, Dr Sridar is now concerned with how we contain new variants, and help allow society – schools, hospitality, the travel sector - return to whatever the ‘new’ normal is.
One thing is for sure, the public and media response to COVID has changed the discourse and acceptance around female scientists.
Today, across a huge variety of sectors and disciplines, through groups such as STEM Women and Equate Scotland the next generation of female scientists are getting ready to shape and safeguard Scotland’s health, drive innovation, and future-proof Scotland’s environment and economy.