Since the early stages of the covid-19 pandemic, we have learned, says Dr. Ryan Shelton, a great deal about what it will take to prepare for and respond to major public health emergencies. Over 20 million people died in just eight months, and at its height, the pandemic was causing over 100 deaths per hour in some regions.
The global healthcare community was caught ill-prepared when this deadly virus swept across the globe. Inadequate medical supplies, insufficient staffing levels, and an inability to get aid to those who needed it most meant that many lives were lost unnecessarily throughout this pandemic despite our best efforts.
In hindsight, there are many important lessons we can learn from the events of those fateful months. The global community must be prepared for widespread and simultaneous outbreaks, as a single outbreak can quickly become a pandemic if it is not contained. Medical supplies need to be stockpiled before any potential crisis, as countries could not react appropriately when faced with a lack of essential medical equipment.
We also need more advanced warning systems that can pick up on early signs about what new viral strains are emerging so that research into treatments and vaccines can begin at an earlier stage.
Here are what Dr. Ryan Shelton feels are five key takeaways from the current pandemic we should all remember.
We Have Unleashed a Revolution in Medicine
The covid-19 pandemic led to breakthroughs in vaccine technology.
A new type of vaccine called mRNA – messenger ribonucleic acid, an RNA molecule that encodes genetic information from DNA for protein synthesis – has made it possible to create vaccines faster and more efficiently than ever before. This means we can vaccinate people more quickly against emerging viruses, like the one responsible for the current pandemic. A few weeks ago, we discovered that covid-19 could mutate and easily become resistant to vaccines, so the development of mRNA vaccines should allow us to stay one step ahead.
Medical researchers are exploring how doctors could also use this new technology for other treatments, such as cancer treatment or for currently untreatable viruses, like HIV.
The Need to Improve the World’s Health Systems
While medical interventions have saved many lives since the beginning of this pandemic, it is clear that we would have saved even more with better provisioning of healthcare services in poorer countries.
Many developing nations were unable to provide essential medical supplies for their citizens when they needed them most. This is particularly evident when looking at regions where circumstances restricted access to medicine because of government policies or opposition groups hiding within their borders.
International aid efforts suffered from a lack of coordination and often failed to reach people in need due to political infighting, restrictions on travel, and areas becoming inaccessible without warning. The global community must work together if we are going to improve the world’s healthcare systems and stop these isolating restrictions.
Inadequate Medical Supplies Lead to Ineffective Disease Control
In many regions of the world, says Dr. Ryan Shelton, especially in the early pandemic, supplies were insufficient or inadequate for the demand. On top of that, both governments and private companies had a general lack of planning on how best to address this shortfall when it occurred.
A wide range of medical equipment is needed during a public health emergency, including surgical masks to body bags for burial purposes. Governments also need a better understanding of where their supply lines will be strained to plan accordingly. Additionally, researchers must explore new ways to boost production levels while still limiting waste.
The Benefits of Telemedicine
An important lesson we have learned from the covid-19 pandemic is how embracing science and technology can save lives. Telemedicine, where doctors and patients communicate remotely via video link, has proven to be an invaluable tool for treating patients far away from their careers. Telemedicine has become a vital piece of our new normal in the days of social distancing and patients wanting greater autonomy in their healthcare decisions.
The result of an increase in the use of telemedicine is that patients have become more aware of their overall health. Patients are encouraged to track things like their blood pressure at home and use at-home equipment to diagnose sleep apnea. Doctors have even been able to fine-tune things like cochlear implants remotely.
Patients who live far away from doctors have seen the most benefit from telemedicine. Patients used to delay in-person doctor visits due to the distance, now they can have regularly scheduled visits, and doctors can more effectively monitor their conditions.
We Need To Take Mental Health Seriously
An interesting side effect of the pandemic has been a rise in mental health problems. The most challenging of these are increased cases of domestic violence, suicide, and social withdrawal.
While many people now have more time on their hands to spend with family members who they would not otherwise have spent time with, patients are now coming forward to report feelings of isolation. With hospitals being closed off, less work is available for them, leading to loss of income or job insecurity due to layoffs. People often ignored mental health before the arrival of the pandemic. Still, it must become a focus if we want to protect ourselves from detrimental effects resulting from this new normalcy.
Even though our governments struggled to protect us from a virus whose symptoms make it hard to detect and easy to mistake as the seasonal flu, international aid groups could save lives by getting necessary supplies where they needed them most. Science and technology showed their potential to revolutionize healthcare going forward while using telemedicine will become a key tool in the future. Finally, mental health has become a new normal that we must deal with head-on to preserve our wellness.