UK Aid funding threat: responses from the heart as well as the head
Published on 24/03/2021
One Health Poultry Hub Director Professor Fiona Tomley and Deputy Director Professor Dirk Pfeiffer issued a formal statement on the threat to our and other UK Aid-funded research and innovation programmes. Here, members of the Hub, offer their own perspectives. We have decided to keep these Hub members anonymous, despite this going against the Hub’s policy of transparency in all our dealings, because of the sensitive current circumstances. The members did not request anonymity themselves.
Our Hub speaks
Our Hub is a live organism with heart and soul. It has been inspiring being part of this huge network of people from different nations together working enthusiastically for a bigger outcome. It’s extremely frustrating watching the outcome of years of efforts being endangered.
During these unprecedented times we have all realised how interdependent the world’s nations are and how vulnerable all of us are against a pandemic. It makes no sense to slow down or shut down key research activities on defence mechanisms against future pandemics, food security and public health.
“I am personally indebted to the people who work with me. We have created a good dynamic in a difficult environment. I felt embarrassed having to announce the cuts. I just felt acutely let down by our Government. What kind of picture does it portray to the world?
“People are generous with their time and go the extra-mile to make it work, despite constraints. However, recent threats of cuts are damaging to the morale of people that put the effort in.”
“The recent cuts to funding represent a disappointing decision by the UK Government. It severely undermines the leading and innovative role of our Hub. Many researchers across the Hub will have to scale down their research, while some others may even be forced to halt their projects.
“Besides the frustration that this entails, it also means that we may be able to accumulate only a fraction of the knowledge that we sought to obtain as a Hub. As an infectious disease modeller that aims to understand how zoonotic risk emerges from the complex interactions between poultry workers and pathogen transmission, I can’t but express my disappointment and concerns about such a short-sighted decision from the UK government.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the truly global nature of our world. Investment in global projects such as the One Health Poultry Hub seek to benefit the UK as well as those countries where research takes place.
“By understanding the risks and resilience of food systems abroad we can try to avoid the crippling social and economic effects of another pandemic landing on our doorsteps. As a nation we need to see this bigger picture, accept that we do not exist in isolation from the rest of the work, and make necessary investments in the future.
“Being a molecular computational biologist, getting involved in Hub activity has greatly expanded my appreciations of the real-world, multifaceted One Health issues we are facing. The Hub has already facilitated network building and new international collaborations for myself and elevated my motivations in tackling real world challenges. The funding cut could put a damaging stop to these links.”
“As a researcher on a fixed-term contract, the recent news from UKRI is worrying for obvious reasons. What drew me to the Hub in the first place was the opportunity to work on a globally important problem that intersects both food security and zoonoses. This will become increasingly urgent as our impact on the environment intensifies.
“Since I have been in the Hub, I have established collaborations with Hub partners in Bangladesh and India on avian influenza and COVID-19 research. These activities would just not have been possible without the Hub’s existence, which has brought together diverse disciplines and institutions.”
“The UK has been in the forefront of education for centuries, currently maintaining the second-highest position in offering training and education to the world. Working together with low- and middle-income countries – as the Hub does – will ensure that no developing country is left behind in creating not only a safer world but a safer UK with adequate food security.”
The Poultry Hub is a genuinely collaborative, interdisciplinary, and international group with ambitious goals to tackle extremely complex problems of immense global concern. Gathering these experts and coordinating their efforts towards a common goal is no small feat and won’t easily be accomplished again.
The Hub is a collection of extremely accomplished individuals that together are worth way more than the sum of our parts. If anything, the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us that borders are permeable. In a global world, there is no sense in compartmentalising research and focusing on purely local problems.
As a very personal statement, I would like to add that as a member of the Hub, I am in awe of how the Hub is managed. The collaboration and synthesis of perspectives and insights is far more than lip service on a grant application.
“Understanding the emergence and evolution of pathogens, as well as new resistance profiles, is increasingly important. The recent COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing significance of avian influenza highlight the relevance of the Hub to the UK and global human populations.”
“Without addressing the unintended effects of economic growth and poultry intensification, and ignoring science that warns about a food system that is advancing towards a disastrous tipping point, we go to an abyss and an uncertain future for our children.”