Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) Sexual Health and Blood Borne Viruses (SHBBV) research group have clinched a top international award for their world-leading HIV and hepatitis C prevention research in people who inject drugs.

They won the 2021 Emerald Publishing International Real Impact Award – Mobilising Research into Action category – for demonstrating impactful results through incredible collaborative working.

The Real Impact Awards celebrate researchers who go above and beyond to make a difference to their communities or wider society.

The award entry, led by Professor Claudia Estcourt and Professor Sharon Hutchinson, showed how the group works collaboratively across academia, public health, NHS, policy, third-sector and people with lived experience to turn research findings into health policy and practice.

Public Health Minister Maree Todd congratulated the team on their achievement and for making a huge difference in blood borne virus services.

“I congratulate the team on their enormously well-deserved achievement. Their work has already made a huge practical difference to BBV services, and no doubt will continue to do so in the future,” she said.

The team also received praise from GCU Principal and Vice-Chancellor Professor Pamela Gillies CBE and FRSE.

She said: “This Award is well deserved recognition for outstanding work. Many congratulations to Claudia, Sharon and the team. It’s wonderful personal recognition but the award also enhances the reputation of our University.”

Professor Estcourt led world-leading HIV research which has underpinned the roll-out and evaluation of Scotland’s HIV Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) Programme, one of the first programmes in the world. 

PrEP is a medication to prevent HIV infection and is hailed as game-changer in the elimination of HIV transmission. People who inject drugs are very vulnerable to getting or passing on HIV through shared injecting equipment and condomless sex.

Professor Hutchinson’s research on hepatitis C virus (HCV) has shaped Scotland’s public health response and led to major health benefits, particularly among people who inject drugs at high risk of infection.

Sexual Health and HIV Professor Estcourt and Epidemiology and Public Health Professor Hutchinson have focused much of their research on people who inject drugs because they are among the most marginalised groups in society.

They emphasised that complex health and social challenges create lifelong disadvantage and inequity. High quality, evidence-based interventions, tailored to their complex needs are essential to reduce their considerable health inequalities and improve their health.

The SHBBV researchers are part of the School of Health and Life Sciences’ Research Centre for Health (ReaCH) – Improving Health and Wellbeing for all.

ReaCH makes a direct and significant contribution to Sustainable Development Goal 3 – good health and wellbeing – issued by United Nations in 2015 as a blueprint for peace and prosperity across the planet.

Professor Estcourt said: “We are absolutely delighted to be awarded this prestigious Real Impact Award for our prevention research and we are incredibly proud of our team for their hard work and dedication.

“Our application focused on how we work in close partnership with Scottish Government, Public Health Scotland, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, the World Health Organization, the NHS and the third sector to ensure translation of our research findings into health policy and practice, crucially placing the lived experiences and voices of people who inject drugs at the centre of research direction and design.”

Professor Hutchinson added: “This award provides recognition to our progress in driving innovation to prevent BBV infection and disease among people who inject drugs, which is key to achieving the World Health Organization’s goal of ending AIDS and eliminating viral hepatitis by 2030. This achievement is a product of the University’s collaborative partnership with Public Health Scotland over the past 10 years, working alongside NHS boards and third sector organisations. I’m absolutely thrilled that the team’s efforts have been recognised in this way.”

As part of the Award, the SHBBV team’s impact commitment will be featured in the Real Impact Awards Showcase Book to be shared in a global social media campaign and will be invited to a celebration event this year to receive a certificate and award.

The Real Impact Award judges commented on the winning entry: “Very focused entry with details about the realities of life for people who inject drugs. Good evidence of impact including on a personal level and clear partnership working – a very innovative entry.

“Innovation was truly evident with the rapid translation of research into practice and policy approach and the training of a group of peer researchers from the PWID community.”