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Covid-19 Webinar: Insights from Dr Mike Ryan, WHO

Introduction

The COVID-19 CMP Education and Training team has never experienced anything like the stampede that followed when the invitation to have an “Insights” call with Dr. Mike Ryan of the World Health Organisation (WHO) presented itself.  Over 1,200 people registered and an unprecedented actually 873 took part in the call.  And they weren’t disappointed.

Mike Ryan spoke just short of an hour, together with his WHO colleague Patrick Drury. He addressed questions from the panel of Dr. Deirdre Mulholland, Dr. Sarah Doyle and Dr. Philip Crowley as well as excellent questions from contact tracers and public health colleagues across Ireland out of over 100 submitted facilitated by Dr. Mary Browne and James Begley from the Education and Training Team.

Though delivered in his now familiar easy, conversational style, full of rich language and common sense examples, his message was structured, clear and uncompromising.  Ireland has done well – “bloody well” in fact - but now is the time to consolidate and “leverage” the work we’ve done to ensure we’re prepared for the next shock to our community. “Was this just nature’s warning shot and is there much worse to come?”

The following is a summary of the conversation. Please click to access the full conversation.

Observations

“Well done!”

Opening with the comment, “All of us who know how difficult and important contact tracing is know what a great job you’ve done in Ireland”, Dr Ryan immediately embraced all on the call as being at one with him and the World Health Organisation.  He sketched the scale and difficulty of the challenge we’ve had to address together. “The global statistics of over 66 million cases and five million deaths show the scale, but the problem is also that we’re not talking about ‘epidemiological equilibrium’ here. Every region’s experience was different.”

Some regions, he said, kept a lid on the spread, largely because they had a “muscle memory” of recent similar experience like SARS, or because they were able to limit influx of new cases and snuff out outbreaks when they occurred.  Others, like Ireland, endured the first wave and managed the virus well enough, but then experienced a second wave after something of a respite in the summer months. “Ireland has done extremely well in the second phase,” he said, but added that other countries, mainly the Americas, haven’t done so well, treating the virus like a normal flu and are now fighting for their lives with acute services stretched to the limit.  “You can set up ICU beds and equipment if you have the money, but you can’t magic up nurses and doctors to service them,” he said.

The world had many varied reactions, but those with a muscle memory had the capability to re-establish contact tracing quickly and did better than others.  These included South Korea, China and Japan.  But contact tracing also needs a vigorous testing regime and rapid lab returns to make it work and these countries also tended to do well in integrating these functions, or “avoiding silos”

Summary of key messages

1.       Avoid Silos

2.       Technology and Humanity must go Hand in Hand

3.       A Stronger Public Health Community

Webinar Close – Dr Philip Crowley

Dr Philip Crowley thanked Dr Ryan and before opening up the discussion to questions addressed some points about Ireland’s response and in particular efforts made to use joined up thinking and avoid “the silo issue”.  He said we had made a significant effort to integrate contact tracing with Public Health best practices. He added that from the earliest stages there was support for people needing psychological as well as clinical support and the response in the community has been positive.  The virus, he noted, exposes inequalities in a society, such as low paid workers and people working in highly congregated settings making them particularly high risk of getting the virus and also spreading it. But we supplied hotel accommodation for those people that might struggle to effectively isolate in their normal settings.