The rapid spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus has posed unprecedented challenges for health systems and governments across the globe. For the majority, the virus will produce only mild symptoms, but for the most vulnerable members of our society consequences can be detrimental. Whilst containment remains a top priority for all countries, it has become increasingly apparent there is no one-size-fits-all approach in tackling the spread of the disease.
The EHFG has called on its YFG network of health professionals to showcase the ongoing efforts they are making in response to the pandemic.
Olivia Biermann, PhD student, Centre for Global Health, Department of Global Public Health, Karolinska Institutet, is supporting the British charity Evidence Aid as an advisor in fighting the COVID-19 infodemic and assisting in the compilation of an Evidence Collection. The collection, which will be available in different languages, consists of summaries of relevant systematic literature reviews. Olivia notes, “Since there are not yet many high-quality systematic literature reviews on COVID-19, we also use information from SARS and MERS, as well as acute respiratory infections”. Funds for the project have been received from H2H/DFID.
Siobhan O’Connor, Lecturer, School of Health in Social Science, The University of Edinburgh, has been supporting student nurses as they prepare to join the health workforce in the United Kingdom (UK). With the rising numbers of COVID-19 infections, hospitals are finding it increasingly difficult to cope with the number of patients presenting with respiratory problems. To alleviate some of the additional pressure being placed on the National Health Service (NHS) UK parliament is passing emergency legislation which will enable final year nursing students to enter the workforce several months early.
As a registered nurse, Siobhan too will return to work clinically in hospital wards over the coming weeks and, in the meantime, is contributing in other ways such as providing telephone triage for COVID-19 assessment hubs, helping to identify individuals who are symptomatic and referring them to the most appropriate health services. She acknowledges “The next few weeks will be extremely busy but as a Young Gasteiner, I am proud to be one of thousands of nursing and other young professionals across Europe responding to this global crisis”.
Raquel Medialdea Carrera, Epidemiologist, EPIET Fellow, European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Directorate, Ministry of Health, Malta, began working with the World Health Organization in February, deploying with the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network (GOARN). Joining the Go.Data team, who are responsible for supporting the implementation and use of the epidemiology software tool Go.Data, she was mandated to Latin American in order to support preparedness and training in the context of the COVID-19 response, which included missions to Mexico, Colombia, Brazil, and Argentina.
Additionally, Raquel has been aiding the COVID response in Malta by conducting the implementation of Go.Data for the management of data from suspected and confirmed cases, assisting with surveillance activities, and carrying out investigations on the chains of transmission of cases.
Anca M. Sarbu, Head of Quality Management and Organisational Development, Klinik Meissenberg AG, Switzerland, is currently leading the hospital’s crisis and risk management team in the fight against COVID-19. On the side, Anca initiated and is now leading The Digital Aid Project (DAP), an ad-hoc, non-profit, public health and social action addressing the challenges faced by the vulnerable inpatient groups and staff in retirement and nursing homes, rehabilitation, and mental health facilities. The goal of DAP is to provide timely and effective support to vulnerable inpatients and organisations in need through the Aid Toolkit and the Digital Health Chart. Anca says, “We, at The Digital Aid Project aim to provide aid and #LeaveNoOneBehind before it’s too late!”. Both the Aid Toolkit and the Digital Health Chart will be available in multiple languages and free of charge by mid-April.
The responsibilities of Stefan Buttigieg, Higher Specialist Trainee, Public Health Medicine, Ministry for Health, Malta, have evolved over the course of the pandemic, initially deployed to the COVID-19 Response Team as part of the Swabbing and Helpline Team he now describes his role as “a hybrid of communications, IT, and data management”.
As well as assisting with the implementation of Go.Data across the Maltese Islands, Stefan has had the opportunity to develop Malta’s COVID-19 Data Dashboard and a Public Health Chatbot nicknamed Covee. He says, “The main observation is that for every crisis, there is a silver lining. In this case, the digital transformation of healthcare is happening right in front of our own eyes and there is an exponential use of technology in all sectors”.
Karolina Mackiewicz, MyData Global Events Lead and International Projects Manager ECHAlliance (European Connected Health Alliance) says, “While the whole world is looking for ways to curb and combat COVID-19, the data-based applications to track and isolate the suspected cases are getting more and more attention from health authorities and governments”. Discussions around what kind and how much of data the governments should have are surfacing and after many years spent battling for privacy and control over the use of personal data, the threat of sacrificing it for the fight against COVID-19 is real.
To support the initiatives based on ethical data sharing, which try to empower users, MyData Global, an international non-profit, which advocates for fair, just, and sustainable digital society, have started the weekly MyData vs COVID-19 community calls. Coordinating this project, Karolina is responsible for reaching out to the initiatives, hosting the calls, and providing comprehensive updates to the community. The calls gather more than 60 participants each and, as Karolina notes, “serve as a platform to inform, exchange, and connect across sectors and borders”.
Vladana Stefanovic, Specialist of Social Medicine (Public Health and Community Medicine), Institute for Student Healthcare of Novi Sad, Serbia, has been contributing to the fight against COVID-19 in a variety of ways. Within her Institute she is acting as the liaison with senior policy and decision makers, informing them of available resources and the measures that have been taken during the pandemic. Due to staff shortages she is also undertaking shifts in the hospital’s respiratory unit, acting as the first point of contact for patients presenting with respiratory symptoms, treating and referring them to the appropriate facilities for testing.
With Serbia enforcing a curfew forbidding all those over the age 65 years of age from leaving their house, apart from once a week between 4:00 and 7:00 am, Vladana has also been assisting the elderly in her family and community, ensuring they have food and necessary supplies. Finally, in her hometown of Novi Sad a fair hall has been converted into a COVID field hospital, Vladana says, ‘I’m next in line to go and perform physician duties there, we will see in the next few days if I will be needed’.
In the context of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the EHFG is planning for the 2020 Forum to take place in Bad Hofgastein, Austria, from 30 September – 2 October as originally announced, with the YFG programme to begin on 29 September. The EHFG will, of course, continue to closely monitor developments, prioritising the safety of all participants and staff by following advice from relevant authorities.