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The role of philanthropy in a Covid-19 world

Health research to tackle Coronavirus
Jennie Younger

Executive Director of Fundraising and Supporter Development

22 June 2020

King’s College London was founded in 1829 on a mission to make the world a better place. Philanthropy and service were part of the underpinning of this institution and the generosity of the King’s community continues to this day. Right now, as the effects of COVID-19 touch every aspect of our society, our donor and alumni community have supported us in a way that is truly inspiring. Almost £6 million has been raised through philanthropic donations and gifts in kind to COVID-19 related appeals across the university and our hospital partners since lockdown began on 23 March. The response of our donor community to the urgent need has been swift and impactful, and for this we are truly grateful.

COVID-19 has touched every aspect of our society, and King’s and our health partners have been at the epicentre of the UK’s COVID-19 epidemic. Our hospital partners (Guy’s & St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust) have been at the forefront of the pandemic in London treating more patients than anywhere else in the UK. The South London & Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust has led national research thinking around the mental health implications of Covid-19. Supporting staff and patients has been vital and Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity set up a rapid response fund to meet the Hospital’s most urgent needs. A fundraising appeal has raised £1.57m to date (including £435k of gifts in kind) at 18 June.

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Led by King’s Health Partners, Life Lines was set up in March to provide at least two tablet devices to every intensive care unit (ICU) across the UK so that families can connect with their loved ones. Philanthropic fundraising has been fundamental to the success of this project. Gifts totalling £1m were secured with Sainsbury family’s True Colours Foundation and Gatsby Foundation. The fundraising team has also worked with Google who have generously donated a further £1.165m to fund the devices.

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At King’s we have developed a suite of research projects in rapid time designed to tackle the virus from all angles: diagnosis, treatment, delivery of care and mental health, drawing on the data received from our hospitals. Our fundraising appeal to support these research areas and others has so far raised £1.25m. Some of these research areas are detailed as follows:

  • There’s is an urgent need for antibody detection to support efforts against COVID-19. Because of the in-built ‘memory’ of the human immune system, those who have had a virus once should be able to mount a rapid immune response if they encounter it second time, but this is still an unknown. King’s is developing a diagnostic tool, which will be crucial in understanding if vaccines are effective in mounting an appropriate immune response, and in helping inform safe individual release from quarantine.

  • King’s Health Partners have also begun sequencing the genomes of the COVID-19 viruses that have infected patients and staff from all our hospital sites, with over 100 already complete. This can help identify ‘hot spots’ and even individuals who transmit the infection to a larger than expected number of people. It can also help understand if the virus changes, if some of those changes can make it more or less dangerous and help ensure any future vaccines will efficiently halt further spread.

  • Furthermore, King’s new Institute for Population Health is ideally placed to help uncover some of the issues driving health inequality in the UK’s COVID-19 epidemic. They are building a model that will help track the virus and build a picture of the demand for COVID-19 testing - both for active viral infection and immunity. The model will be shared across the UK and with other countries to support the global fight against the novel coronavirus.

  • The effects of the pandemic on our health reach far beyond the physical effects of COVID-19 itself. Understanding the impact the disease and strategies to contain it will have on our mental health now, and in the months and years to come, will be vital. King’s researchers aim to uncover vital information to support national and global mental health strategies as countries come out of lockdown.
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Our gratitude to our philanthropic community is matched only by our pride in how the King’s alumni community of more than 300 active volunteers are serving their local communities. There are also many alumni working on the front line of the COVID-19 response. Dr Alex Kumar (MBBS, 2008) currently works in London, between clinical responsibilities as a GP registrar at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Trust and research as an academic clinical fellow at King’s College London. He was part of the team who helped set up and run the NHS Nightingale Hospital at London's Excel Centre. You can read more about his story here.

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2019 Distinguished Alumni Award winner, Elizabeth Khadija Tissingh (Medicine, 2008), is working with the Ministry of Health and the World Health Organisation in the Democratic Republic of Congo to support COVID-19 hospital preparedness and clinical case management for the province of Kongo Central under the King’s Global Health Partnerships’ initiative.

She shares: ‘I feel tremendously privileged to be able to contribute to improving health outcomes in the NHS and in the DRC. I had hoped to have a career that bridged these worlds and am so grateful that I am able to do that- especially at a time when global solidarity has never been more important.’

I have never really considered ‘service’ as being something optional or something separate from the rest of life. Life is at its best when it is lived and shared with others; giving to others - in whatever form you choose- is part of what it means to be human.’

There are so many different facets to this crisis, and King’s is in a very strong position to use its expertise to understand the virus and help society deal with it. Our community of donors, alumni and friends has never been more important. Your strength, generosity and passion are what drives us on and enable us to make a positive difference. To all of you, I would like to say a sincere thank you.

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Jennie Younger is Executive Director of Fundraising and Supporter Development.

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