What I’m Doing in 2020

Pritpal S Tamber

April 7, 2020

Looking at the medical literature to see whether having agency (A) and a sense of belonging (B) can change (C) the odds on health

2020 is going to be a year to remember. 

As I write, the number of cases of covid-19 continues to rise globally, as does the death rate. Terrifying though this is, there are also glimmers of hope. Austria, for example, is set to ease its lockdown and the UK government has finally woken up to the need for more testing and is apparently reaching out to Germany for some hints and tips. 

It’s important to remember, though, that these glimmers are being seen through the haze of community distress. In the UK, for instance, yesterday saw the highest number of deaths in a day (786) as well as the warning that things will get worse before they get better. Coupled with that, it’s seeing one of its most important hospice providers, Sue Ryder, face a financial black hole that may force it to close down. Apparently, the UK government can offer billions to businesses but have nothing for charities that make death bearable.

I wasn’t planning to write much in 2020. During 2019, I published a whole series of interviews that emanated from my UK-based project, Beyond Systems, a two-year endeavour to better understand how statutory systems fail those most in need. I also used those interviews to inform my newsletter, Community & Health, a regular look at the evidence requiring health care to rethink how it works with communities. In general, my writing has always been linked to a project. 

Agency, Belonging & Health

My 2020 project is perhaps my most difficult yet. I have been asked to review the research into the health-related value of having agency and a sense of belonging. The working hypothesis is that given that health is largely a consequence of place, and given that places are created through policies and systems, people and communities with agency are more likely to change their environment for the better, including for their health – and that this agency is stronger where people also have a sense of belonging. 

The first step will be to get a handle on the evidence linking agency to health and the evidence linking belonging to health. I’m doing that by speaking with ten or so experts across both areas. My plan is to use the literature that they highlight to inform some deeper searches of PubMed and perhaps other bibliographic databases. I’ll then try to create a narrative that, based on the evidence, weaves agency, belonging and health. 

Our intention is to publish one, perhaps two, articles. Whether we will depends on whether we’re able to pull something compelling together – and, of course, whether anyone wants to publish it. We shall see but we’re of the view that if the narrative holds it deserves to be in the public domain for consumption, reflection and comment. 

As I said, I wasn’t planning to write much in 2020, partly because this project is so big that I’m unlikely to have the time. That’s a shame, however, as I’m sure I’ll come across fascinating research that could influence how health care works with communities. I’m hoping that I’ll have the time after the project or perhaps the funders of the project may want to support some writing beyond the “one, perhaps two, articles” it’s looking for. 

I’ve been tempted to write about covid-19 and its impact on communities. It seems to me that those communities that have been able to rally together and protect each other have an important ‘capacity’ (that may well include agency and belonging). However, the pandemic is fast-moving and I’ve realised that I’ve become bored of the speculative scribbles filling my inbox and the pages of newspapers. I didn’t want to become part of the noise. 

I’ll resurface before the end of the year but note that I am still here, still working, and still very much engaged with the ideas that I mention on my about page and in my perspective. So, do feel free to get in touch

Pritpal S Tamber

I’m a doctor who trained as a medical editor and publisher and now researches and consults on the link between community power and health equity. My interest in community power started when I was the Physician Editor of TEDMED and is explained in My Perspective. I also work as a freelance medical editor and publisher for organisations that want to write high-quality articles and a strategy for their publishing and promotion. Find out more on my About page.

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