The ink had not dried on my last end-of-year message when the virus SARS-CoV-2 made its inglorious entry into our world and a new disease, COVID-19, was born. Twelve months on, the perception is that there has never been a year like the Covid-ravaged 2020. In reality, we are experiencing a reprise of what our forebears went through in the 1918 influenza pandemic and other historic pandemics.
For despite all the scientific and technological advances of the last 100 years, the interventions applied to constrain the COVID-19 pandemic are in essence no different from those introduced in 1918-1920: facemasks, social distancing, quarantines, shelter-in-place orders and lockdowns. In other words, we have so far had to rely not on technology but on psychosocial interventions; not so much on medicines as on measures that call for behavioural adaptation.
The pandemic has also unmasked, if not accentuated, inequalities in health care globally, with disproportionate distribution of mortality and morbidity in under-privileged populations. There is evidence of a global increase in domestic violence, especially against women. The United Nations has also reported that COVID 19 could reverse the progress that has been made on gender equality and women’s rights. A predictive model based on the best available evidence has predicted that close to 20% of the UK population will need either new or additional mental health support as a direct consequence of the pandemic.
Science has lived up to its reputation by producing a vaccine for COVID-19 in record time. For optimal impact, however, uptake of the vaccine has to be impressive. However, in a survey conducted by Reuters/Ipsos in the USA (a country ravaged by the pandemic) in the first week of this month, 1 in every 3 women said they were not keen on having the vaccine.
All of this draws global attention to the core message that ISPOG has championed since its inception five decades ago: that the delivery of health care entails more just medical science; that health care should integrate biological factors with psychological and social factors. The shift of attention is most welcome, but attention should be attended by action. A post-pandemic plan of action is called for. This should address issues of health inequalities, gaps in mental health care, social and behaviour change communication, and provision of psychological support for frontline health workers.
ISPOG will continue to draw attention to these issues through its advocacy activities, and match this with action through its activities in the education and research domains.
I wish our Christian members a Merry Christmas, and to all members I say Happy New Year and may 2021 bring health, happiness and fulfilment.
Warm greetings to all, - Leroy C. Edozien