Science-based leadership must to tackle health crisis: WHO expert

Sowmya Swaminathan feels the current pandemic has highlighted need for better communication

Nations need to have science-based leadership and policy, follow evidence-based guidelines, and be able to review new evidence as it emerges and be adaptable to have a grip on a pandemic as dynamic as COVID-19, chief scientist, WHO, Soumya Swaminathan, has said.

This was one of the reasons, despite having so many tools of science and technology, nations were not able to bring the pandemic under control, Dr. Swaminathan said, while delivering the convocation address at the 37th annual convocation of Sree Chitra Tirunal Institute for Medical Sciences and Technology (SCTIMST), here on Saturday.

The convocation ceremony was held online, in which 162 senior residents, PhD scholars, and students who graduated in 2020 after completing DM, Mch, Post doctoral fellowships, and certificate courses, MS etc received their degrees.

The lessons from the pandemic were several and nations had learnt how important it was to have good communication and community engagements, without which long-term behavioural change—one of the primary tools of battling this pandemic—cannot be brought about in the community.

The pandemic also taught the world how important it was to have a compassionate and humble approach, when dealing with a contagion that often remained way beyond the control and means of nations, Dr. Swaminathan said.

The impact of the pandemic had widened the inequities among countries and societies and in every country, it had adversely affected those who were already marginalised and were vulnerable and at the bottom of the socio-economic scale.

The pandemic also brought out the downsides of science and the emerging technical advances that could have a huge impact on public health, apart from socio-ethical and legal implications.

Dr. Swaminathan said more than anything, the pandemic brought out the need for a strong regulatory system for research and clinical trials.

It was extremely important to have a transparent, science-based regulatory system in every country, headed by a scientist who was independent and had no conflict of interests, because vaccines and drugs should be approved on the basis of the highest of scrutiny, Dr. Swaminathan pointed out.

She also spoke about how important it was to strengthen the research institutions and medical colleges in the country and to equip them to do top-notch research. Investment in public health institutions and laboratories was a must.

Every State should have a strong public health institute and a public health cadre that should be linked to the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), so that disease surveillance, response and prevention of communicable and non communicable diseases would happen in a systematic manner.

Another important lesson from the pandemic was how important it was to strengthen primary healthcare delivery in all nations, she added.

Congratulating the graduates of SCTIMST, she encouraged them to follow their minds and hearts, show perseverance in following their dreams without looking for rewards or returns at every turn because these would come at the right time.

President of the institute V.K. Saraswat presided over the function and conferred the degrees.

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