Hi, I’m Rita - a medical doctor, public health academic, and activist for collective health
Short-ish Health/Climate/Advocacy bio
Dr Rita Issa is an East London GP, PhD fellow at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Research, and London Mayor’s "Public Sector Sustainability Changemaker 2022”. Rita has previously worked as a humanitarian medic for MSF and WHO, and has co-founded a number of advocacy and activist organisations campaigning on migrant rights, climate change, and health justice and access. She's a frequent voice in the media and a columnist for the Independent, most recently writing a series on the importance of our oceans for human and planetary wellbeing from her time aboard the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise. She's co-editor of the 'Handbook of Refugee Health' and the upcoming text 'Health, Resistance and Activism'.
Short-ish Web3/ DeSci bio
Dr Rita Issa is a physician and PhD fellow at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Research. She is the initiator and coordinator of Planet.Health, an exploratory incubator for re-imagining planetary health futures through a range of tools such as the blockchain, VR/AR, the arts, and alternate forms of organising, collaborating and living. She is co-founder of a web3 platform (pre-launch) that utilises the blockchain to improve governance and financing for the SDGs. Rita sits on the advisory board to the UK government All Party Parliamentary Group on web3 and the metaverse.
A bit more detail about me
I currently divide my time in 4(+) ways:
NHS GP (family medicine physician) working in a highly diverse community in East London, at a holistic practice that centres the social determinants of health in our understanding of health
"Critical Decade for the Climate Leverhulme PhD Fellow", based at the University of East Anglia, using participatory community-led approaches to explore mental health and transformation in communities on the frontlines of Climate and Environmental breakdown. I continue to hold an honorary Research Fellowship in Climate Change, Migration and Health at Lancet Migration and the UCL Institute for Global Health.
Innovating on Planetary Health futures, through web3 and beyond
Activism and community organising, of course ;-)
I completed my family medicine (GP) training at the Bromley-by-Bow Centre, the birthplace of social prescribing and one of the first in the UK to take a community-led approach to health care, rooted within the social determinants of health.
In the Spring of 2021, I spent 3-months as the onboard medic for the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise in the Indian Ocean, reporting on the importance of the oceans for human and planetary health as a columnist for the Independent. As a humanitarian medic, I've worked with Médecins Sans Frontières in the Syrian refugee response, and conceptualised and developed the first home-based chronic disease programme in a refugee camp, still ongoing 5+ years on, and with other organisations including Primary Care International. As a consultant at WHO, I helped develop the first round of climate and health country profiles to enable negotiators to use the public health threat of climate change as an advocacy aid at COP.
I have been an activist for over a decade and believe that communities hold the answers to our most pressing challenges; as such, my work is in building community power and amplifying grassroots stories and solutions. Groups I’ve (co-)founded or worked with include Doctors for Extinction Rebellion, Build Back Better, Keep Our NHS Public, Docs Not Cops, UK Uncut, Health Professionals for Global Health, NHS Direct Action, and Medact. Campaigns I’ve contributed to span air pollution, climate change, access to healthcare for migrants, covid-19 communication, tackling vaccine misinformation, the US-UK trade negotiations, and the Green New Deal. My speech at the Enough is Enough rally in October 2022, and subsequent interview, went viral.
Media and knowledge dissemination
I use the media as a tool to flatten knowledge hierarchies and translate complex or inaccessible scientific information into clear, concise messaging for the public. I've appeared on the BBC, BBC R4 'Moral Maze', ITV, Sky News, Al Jazeera and Novara Media, among others, and write when there’s no other outlet for my frustrations. I have given talks and keynote speeches at various universities inc. at the Oxford Blavatnik School of Government, the UK govt's National Climate Change Conference, the Prince Mahidol Award Conference, UNGA and COP side events, MED Fest, Glastonbury's Leftfield Stage, and more.
On the side, I'm a trained yoga teacher with an interest in whole food nutrition and jungian psychotherapy. I've spent years delving into 'the underworld/ running with the wolves' so to speak, and am currently undertaking a post-graduate certificate in Eco-psychotherapy. I'm a multi-instrumentalist and session musician (violin, guitar and voice among others), perform and record on the semi-regular, and run jam sessions in London.
I imagine I appear somewhat scattered. From the inside, it doesn't feel that way. I realised early on in my career that those who I admired most carved their own paths and that often innovation comes from cross-pollination, collaboration, and transdisciplinarity. While I admire experts, that isn't my nature; I am a deep generalist and my role in ecosystems is to be a bridge. And so, I work on areas and themes that interest me and align with values of justice/ fairness, agency, and impact. Clearly what we've tried so far hasn't worked: we haven't won on health, migrant rights, and definitely not on the climate. So, the quest and work continues until we land on something that does.