(Image from pixabay.com CC-0)
Let me ask you this: How many articles related to COVID-19 did you read, in the past few weeks? Just like most of us, medical science professionals of all kinds, the content we have been consuming most of has been related, directly or indirectly, to the biggest pressing issue the world is dealing with presently. And I’m here to say this is totally fine & appropriate. After all, when was the last time a biomedical issue became the worldwide number 1 topic of interest. SARS-CoV-2 is harming the healthy, and vulnerable patients. It’s also harming society, economy, policy, and more, both in predictable ways and in ways we still have no solid forecast ability for yet. This is why present efforts towards containment, mitigation, and other management actions are so vital and require the buy-in from all individuals in society. In parallel, this is also why the biomedical, and more broadly, the life science field in general, is very much pivoting their attention at the moment, vigorously brainstorming and planning future directions (while #StayingHome of course) in an effort to better understand, deal with, and avoid future similar scenarios that will inevitably happen again.
One of the more crass and unpalatable statements that get thrown around in times like these, especially within the halls of certain types of political and financial power brokers is “Never let a crisis go to waste”. The point being, while people are distracted by the overwhelming day to day events that unfold in times of struggle, some individuals use the cover provided and make certain that some of their goals and demands that normally get blocked in more orderly times, can be enacted and their aims can be realized. The prevalence and precision of this type of maneuver is so well-honed and practiced that a lot of folks refer to it as part of the “playbook” in political and financial writing. And the reality is, it works! And while historically it’s been used for ways to benefit the few over the many, “Never let a crisis go to waste” is, at its core, a useful and effective strategy, that can be implemented to benefit the many, the society, and everyone in it.
A global pandemic is one of the few causes that truly brings to attention the uniting themes and areas of need that a vast majority of the world population face. Whether it’s the instability and vulnerability of the supply chains of food and goods, or the imbalance of economic status-quo that we all come to take for granted. These and many other angles that require addressing are perfect opportunities to utilize that play from the playbook “Never let a crisis go to waste”. I sincerely hope altruist economists and politicians are brainstorming, or bringing out and dusting off old shelved plans that have not had a chance to be enacted in the status-quo times. I hope they’re doing their best to ensure that once we, as world citizens, are able to turn the tide on COVID-19, we have a chance to achieve a course correction and a new balance that puts us on a path for a healthier, more egalitarian world.
To focus on the biomedical side of this equation, and the needs that should be addressed, we should face some of the facts unfolding right in front us, in real time. Looking at the healthcare systems of many cities and countries around the world, we right now see the vulnerability our healthcare providers are made to experience. Lack of personal protective equipment, lack of numbers of health care workers needed in a particular city or country, difficulty in coordination of testing and acquiring enough medicine and lifesaving equipment, and a number of other vital issues that have been uncovered by this pandemic. These are the types of factors that must be addressed so that they can be avoided in the future. These are just a handful of examples, and many others are getting documented. If I can state this in one sentence (severely oversimplifying it, but the point remains true): Cities need to have healthcare infrastructures that won’t get overwhelmed when more than 5% of the population served requires attention in a short period of time. There needs to be plans, equipment, and available reserve workforce that can quickly (in a matter of days, not weeks or more), expand and enlarge the healthcare infrastructure to accommodate the needs of the population.
And while it’s obvious now, it must be said that support and focus on research geared towards coronavirus specifically, and more broadly infectious disease, must be bolstered and elevated to higher priority, which it definitely was not, prior to this latest health crisis. Additionally, let’s not forget that biomedical research of all types is constantly working to investigate, and help defend the world from exactly this type of burden. Research if fields such as cardiovascular diseases (still the #1 cause of mortality worldwide, WHO data), or cancer, or any other field in bioscience or medicine is our way to avoid a future similar to this moment. Maybe (hopefully) the physicians and scientists that are in a position to “Never let a crisis go to waste” can find a way to make their causes more of a priority, and their efforts can be more widely acknowledged, and their research more efficiently utilized, to help us all in avoiding similar future healthcare challenges.
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