My personal reflections about COVID-19

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Monday, 23 March 2020

Reflections by Tamar Ghosh, RSTMH CEO

It has been just a couple of weeks since COVID-19 was defined a pandemic. It has been just a few days since those of us in the UK were asked to change our ways of working and living, following many other countries asking for the same, and with many more to come I’m sure.

'This feels like a new world'

This is a challenging time in many ways, a time when it is easy to think and fear for others. Last week I dropped off food and spoke to my elderly parents through a top-floor window to try and keep them safe. I worry about the children in my life, my partner and our families who are far away in India and New Zealand. I worry for friends who are going through or have come through cancer treatment or suffer with anxiety. I think about my brother and many friends working in healthcare as doctors, nurses, health-workers, as well as those in the service industry or in policy roles who are forced to face this pandemic head on. I think about our amazing team and Board here and for the many members and Fellows who we see and speak to. I’m sure you all have your own list.

I am grateful to everyone who is directly working on this virus, and it motivates me to ensure we as a Society do what we can to help right now through funding and showcasing research as well as harnessing peoples experiences, skills and expertise to learn from and apply to future crises. At this time, we must ensure we do our bit to prevent future pandemics from having such a firm grip on so many peoples’ lives.

'For the first time in decades, millions of us are facing exactly the same health worries'

This crisis reminds us that we are truly global citizens; global health has become more equitable, for all of the wrong reasons. For the first time in decades, millions of us are facing exactly the same health worries. I hope this is an opportunity for more of us to understand health through other peoples’ perspectives. For many diseases that the society contributes to, such as leprosy and snakebite, the health challenges for affected populations are immense, but the economic challenges for the patients and their families are even longer-term and devastating. Now, this link between health and economics is becoming increasingly real for more of us. It is a reminder to understand and include the economic cost of health projects when we consider their impact.

As a Society we are lucky to know many of the greatest minds in our field who are now working on this crisis – through the frontline delivery of care, influencing funding, keeping the public informed, working on vaccines, treatment, and other services. In the UK we are led by Professor Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance, and their extensive experience and knowledge. As a former Committee member, we have benefitted from Chris’s technical skill, ability, and measured approach to getting things done. Their guidance is welcome during this unknown time, which we will understand more fully when we can look back on it and fit together the global jigsaw pieces. We must remember the scientific, social and cultural learnings from this period, those that have helped us tackle this crisis and also those which may be of future value will help lead us to future discoveries. We should capture these in a movement of collective action, globally and locally. 

We know diseases do not remain within borders, neither do populations, as a result of travel, climate change and conflict. These changes have brought new challenges to managing infectious diseases and other health issues. In tackling these we must remember we are collectively only as strong as the weakest health system in our interconnected network. We need to invest as much as we can of our time, money and energy in improving the systems across all countries, not forgetting the ones that are perhaps not as strong. Hopefully we will revisit this at our next Annual Meeting on outbreaks and emerging disease.

As global citizens, this is the moment that all of us should do what we can to help each other, locally and globally. As individuals we have a new shared experience that we should learn from in new ways. Now they have been put to the test, it is the perfect time to consider whether the international and national health frameworks are workable and helpful for the global population. We should revisit whether we are collectively investing enough in preparedness and health system strengthening. We should also consider how emergency support frameworks could play their role.

Like many of our partners we are asking ourselves how we are best placed to help. Can we be doing more, and doing it more directly? How should we be utilising the collective knowledge of our incredible network of members and Fellows? What difficult questions should we be asking, and attempting to answer? And how do we support the next generation of clinicians, researchers, implementers, health workers and social scientists to be better prepared and equipped to tackle the next pandemic. Our vision it to save lives, eradicate disease, and improve equity in health – we need to ensure the learnings from this crisis help put us in a stronger position to do that, along with our partners and friends.

Thank you again for all you are doing, and as always let us know if we can be doing more.

Best wishes and stay safe

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