Hi, I’m Rita - a medical doctor, public health academic, and activist
Short-ish Health/Climate/Advocacy bio
Dr Rita Issa is an NHS GP and research fellow at the UCL Institute for Global Health, studying the intersections of climate change, migration and health. She 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 family medicine physician and research fellow at the UCL Institute for Global Health, with experience across a number of humanitarian and global health institutions, including WHO, MSF and Greenpeace. She is leading on Planet.Health, an exploratory incubator and learning community for planetary health and blockchain communities to co-develop tools and mechanisms for planetary flourishing. She is also (currently pre-launch) building a global health platform in web3 that utilises the blockchain to improve transparency, decentralisation and funding, and de-monopolises global health financing. www.dritaissa.com | planethealth.club
A bit more detail about me
At first glance and for those of you who don't know me - maybe even for those who do - I imagine I appear somewhat scattered. "What a wide range of interests you have! How do you fit it all in?! What a meandering route you have taken!". 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, with no 'grand plan' as to where I may end up. 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.
As such, I currently divide my time in 4(+) ways:
NHS GP working in a highly diverse community in East London
Research Fellow in Climate Change, Migration and Health at Lancet Migration and the UCL Institute for Global Health. As of October 2022, I will be a "Critical Decade for the Climate Leverhulme Scholar", 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
Stealth mode on a launching project working to make web3 and the blockchain better: with more real-word application, that is more meaningful and transformative for communities - living up to the full potential of decentralisation and transparency that web3 offers #DeSci
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. 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 lived and worked in the UK, Lebanon, Nepal, Ghana, Germany, Switzerland, and Latin America.
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.
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, ITV, Sky News, Al Jazeera and Novara Media, among others, and write when there’s no other outlet for my frustrations.
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 delight in navigating personal and collective psyche and how we interact with the more-than-human world. 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 also host the London humanitarian and aid workers meet-up group.
As a generalist with a range of diverse interests, I see my role as bridging siloed sectors, integrating complex systems, and finding the emergent links and simple lessons in the mix.