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May 4, 2020

Lessons from Covid-19

Although far from over, the Covid-19 pandemic has already provided important lessons. From the public health point of view, perhaps the most important one is that the best service a government can give its citizens – and to the rest of the world – is to never ignore, dismiss, or hide the extent of an infectious disease outbreak, because it has the potential of becoming an epidemic or even a pandemic that will spread throughout most countries in the world.

Sound information is essential in controlling an epidemic effectively. The backbone of public health policies and actions entails accurate and reliable statistics about the number of cases and their location. When a viral infection evolves in a way that seems ominous from the beginning, the moral responsibility of all governments is to make this information widely known so that adequate measures of protection can be taken at the global level.

Further, it is important to convey such information through the World Health Organization (WHO), where all governments (including the United States) are represented, to insure the formulation of adequate policies. Delay in conveying this information has been costly in the fight against Covid-19, allowing the pandemic to progress at a vertiginous pace and causing an unnecessary loss of lives.

Equally crucial is to know how many diagnostic tests and hospital beds are available, as well as the number of health professionals with protective equipment and all other resources necessary to combat an epidemic. Where these resources are insufficient, the government should be prepared to take all measures to make them available at the first sign of an epidemic. Outbreak and epidemic preparedness plans already exist in most countries, so national authorities should make sure that they are periodically checked and updated.

Because a pandemic is a public health issue with heavy political overtones, it is tempting to put political figures in charge. This mistake is proving costly, since only public health experts have the technical knowledge to understand the dynamics of the outbreak and control its spread. Recent examples of political leaders touting untested cures that may end up being more dangerous than helpful show the dangers of this approach. President Donald Trump’s suggestions that the coronavirus could be treated with household disinfectants and UV light injected under the skin have caused surprise and consternation worldwide.

Excerpted from: 'Lessons From the COVID-19 Pandemic'. Commondreams.org