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ASPHER is the key independent European organisation dedicated to strengthening the role of public health by improving education and training of public health professionals for both practice and research.
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Member's blog - Other

ASPHER President's Message - August 2021

Publication date: 22.08.2021
Author: John Middleton

Welcome to the climate crisis season

Greetings to all our ASPHER members this summer. Are you heading anywhere nice for your holidays? Mendacino sounds nice. Or British Columbia? For adventure, perhaps Siberia, China or the Indian ocean. Maybe you are staycationing – in the Euroregion Meuse-Rhein perhaps? Or Evia Island, Greece?

Ahead of the COP21 Climate Summit in Glasgow this autumn, the world is being given a heads-upon what climate breakdown looks like. ASPHER’s Young Professionals Rana Orhan and Tara Chen ask the question: are our political leaders up to the task of making the real interventions that will tackle climate breakdown? Evidence from British politicians suggests not: Prime-minister Johnson will open new oil and gas fields off Shetland. His spokesperson in charge of the COP conference arrangements advises us to freeze bread to stop it going off – to save energy – and says she doesn’t fancy an electric car just yet. Our leaders have failed to address one single major global disaster, the pandemic. Can we now expect them to do any better faced with multiple and unpredictable global disasters? Rana is our ASPHER fellow and is leading ASPHER’s efforts to enhance climate change and public health education – she describes some of her recent successes and invitations to join our work later in this newsletter.

I am sorry

On behalf of the public health community of the United Kingdom I would like to apologise to the global community for my government’s wilful abandonment of any semblance of control on the current wave of the pandemic here – setting ‘Global Britain’ up as the potential leading COVID new variants factory for the world… ASPHER members in the UK and many other countries have been signatories to the latest John Snow Declaration, condemning the UK’s ‘freedom day’ July 19th. Professor Jose Martin-Moreno, one of ASPHER COVID-19 Task Force’s most active members, was widely quoted in the British and other media.

Deja-vu? Planning for a third wave of COVID and planning for winter

ASPHER is again expressing concern about how well governments, the public health community and health services are preparing for the winter. An explosion of respiratory infections including flu and RSV is expected this winter – as many countries are surrendering their social distancing and masking requirements. ASPHER has highlighted issues relating to the profusion of new variants of SARS-COV2 virus, one of which will inevitably be vaccine resistant. This time last year we set a definition of the second wave of the pandemic – we anticipated the arrival of new variants in that definition – but we could not have envisaged the real and deadly impact of the beta variant in early 2021 or the delta variant from March. Those variants, and those still to come. At the time we were debating which wave it was and reflecting wryly that ‘when you are drowning, it doesn't matter which wave you are under'. Many countries are preparing for a fourth wave. I think there was a EUROS wave, judging by the experience of those countries which hosted games during the tournament. See figure – Discuss. The UK is now seeing a rise of cases which could be the 'Freedom day wave'...

Figure 1. A EUROS wave? Or just Delta variant?

ASPHER is also concerned at the increasing diversity of symptoms COVID-19 is presenting with and our collective inability to change case definitions. We also have limited understanding and appreciation of the widening range of extended medical syndromes, referred to under the banner of ‘long COVID’. I am grateful to Vasco Ricoco Peixito for his leadership of our thinking on the ‘pandemic at the crossroads this summer’

COVID-19 is not flu – flu does not kill 115,000 health workers worldwide and it doesn’t produce new deadly variants this frequently. We have no reason to believe there will be an end to this pandemic – what we are prepared to live with versus how hard we expect to suppress it will determine whether millions more people will die. We can be optimistic, but we cannot be complacent and we must be ready for another tough winter ahead.

ASPHER’s work has proceeded on many other fronts featured elsewhere in the newsletter. I am grateful to all our members for your continuing interest and involvement in our work, and to our executive, our young professionals group and others involved in our strategic development. Particular thanks as always, to the ASPHER Secretariat, Robert Otok, Lore Leighton and Rana Orhan for their outstanding contributions.

Professor John Middleton
President, ASPHER

Read the ASPHER July-August 2021 Newsletter here

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