Health is one of, and maybe our most fundamental human resource. People from all societies want to live healthy and long. However, health is a resource that is unevenly, and some would say, unfairly distributed. The rich are healthier than the poor. Wealth, income, education and profession are all resources that predict mental and physical health. The less you got of such resources, the higher the health risk. Can we in any way counteract health inequality? With the support from Erasmus+, and in company of my daughter and husband, I went to London and the UCL Institute of Health Equity to look for answers.
Since the establishment in 2011, the institute has investigated a wide range of strategies, initiatives and policies to improve health equity. However, while most research institutions restrict their aim to investigating the “problem”, the UCL Institute of Health Equity also supports and contributes to solutions through development of approaches that can lead to a fairer and healthier society. Sir Michael Marmot, one of the most influential Professors of Epidemiology and Public Health, is the head of the institute. I met him twice during my stay, but I did not dare to ask for a photo… I was too starstruck.
I rented a flat on Portobello Road. Old and simply equipped, but close to some of the central parks in London. The proximity to the parks was valuable for us since my daughter was 20 months at the time, and my husband had to look after her while I was at the University. I tried to get into office as early as possible, to avoid spending too much time stuck in traffic. If I got in before eight, I would usually spend less than 40 min on the journey. However, with a little one at home, I sometimes ran a bit late.
The purpose of my stay was to work with and learn from Dr. Ruth Bell, one of the senior staff at the institute. However, as the entire institute (except for Sir Michael) is sharing one office, one could say that I was more or less shadowing the entire institute. Discussions and exchange of information between staff gave me valuable information on how they plan and conduct their work. Furthermore, most of the projects at the institute are collaborations with other universities, governmental agencies or local communities. This implies quite a bit of communication, for example skype meetings, most often conducted within the shared office. When I heard something interesting, I was always able to discuss it with them. During my stay, I realised that there are many links between my own research projects and the ongoing research projects at the UCL Institute of Health Equity.
One could think that it is hard to concentrate when sharing office with an entire institute, but I got used to it very quickly. I had no problems spending hours of reading or doing statistical analyses of social exclusion, which was something I worked on together with Dr. Ruth Bell.
However, life is more than work, particularly as I brought my family along. In the afternoon, we usually had an early dinner. We were frequent guests at some of the local restaurants. We spent the rest of the afternoons in Hyde Park, Holland Park or Regent’s Park. All three are amazing parks, both in terms of nature and size. My daughter loved Princess Diana Memorial Playground. It is a marvelous playground, highly recommended if you are in London with children. This is the first time I brought my daughter and husband with me when I am working abroad, and I enjoyed having them around. This arrangement implied less time to join colleagues for after work activities, however, it gave me more time to edit papers and do research.