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ASPHER September 2020 Newsletter: Message from the President

Publication date: 17.09.2020
Author: John Middleton

I hope you have all been able to get some rest and respite over the summer. For many of us, the summer has been one of continuing duties – working on our schools’ plans for reopening or virtual teaching in the autumn, planning for a second wave of COVID-19, planning for a healthier future after COVID, or watching with horror as new disasters unfold with the continuing pandemic, the disaster in Beirut, and continuing civil unrest in the United States and the demolition of Public Health England!  Look out for more on this in my next ‘from our UK correspondent blog’ due soon!

ASPHER’s survey of schools’ plans for reopening this autumn is a valuable piece of work and I commend it to you. My thanks to Tobias Weitzel, Pallavi Chatarajupali, Melissa Sawaya, Ranjeet Dhonkal and Ines Siepmann for their work on this.

The situation continues to be volatile across Europe with plans made one week overturned the next, and more local measures implemented. COVID infections seem to be affecting younger age groups, with fewer fatalities and serious illnesses and placing less demand on hospitals. But the virus may be just ticking over in younger populations, so we should expect more consequences for older, iller populations later in the autumn.

The effect on younger populations has stronger implications for schools. It isn’t just a question of protecting our students in the classroom. The population of many university towns and cities is massively swelled by large influxes of students. Their time in class will be a very small part of their day and there will be the potential for COVID to be reignited in whole communities. The apparent impact on younger people is also not the end of the story – in examples such as Florida and Switzerland earlier in the pandemic, younger people have been affected in large numbers and have provided a spring board for infection and death of older people.

ASPHER’s statement on planning for winter and the second wave remains sound – I commend it to you. A short version is now published in the International Journal of Public Health and my assessment of the state of winter planning in England has been published in BMJ opinion. My thanks to Henrique Lopes, Kai Michelson, John Reid and Pallavi Chatarajupalli for their work on this. With Birmingham and Warwick University colleagues, we have also published a BMJ editorial on breaking the cycle of transmission in the home.

The use of ‘fangcang’- field or isolation hospitals in Wuhan was judged to be a major component of reducing the rate of infection earlier this year. ASPHER has prepared a cross-country comparison of how European countries are using ‘makeshift’ facilities to isolate affected persons. We will publish this shortly. Thank you to Costase Ndayishimiye our researcher on this. Isolating people with milder infections seems to be difficult or contentious in western societies but it is a missing element of our control strategies. I also commend our resources on surveillance apps to you. Excellent work from Henrique Barros, Tobias Weitzel, and colleagues. The glossary of terms is helpful and cross-country comparisons insightful. We will soon be publishing a statement on vaccination ethics, effectiveness and availability issues. Look out for that one. Another major resource we have developed is our dynamic epicurves with timelines for actions taken by a range of countries during the pandemic. I am particularly grateful to Ranjeet Dhonkal for his great work on this.

ASPHER has been in the news with the Portuguese article on our ‘How to Count Illness’ report. Thanks to Henrique Lopes for helping the journalist and thanks to Carlo Signorelli and colleagues for putting the report together. There has also been renewed interest in our COVID testing in the real world report. Politico published an article on questions of test accuracy and the international dash to test more, in which I am quoted. It would be great if more ASPHER members could use our resources actively with your own country’s journalists – national or local – and do let us know the coverage you get…

I was pleased to be able to speak at an Arab Public Health Association Webinar on COVID-19 and public health competencies on August 12th. The presentation included our key documents on public health competence – the WHO-ASPHER competency framework for the public health workforce in the European Region and the ASPHER core competences for the public health professional, 5th edition. You can find my presentation here. Thanks to Professor Salman Rawaf and colleagues for making this happen.

The meeting followed only a week after the terrible disaster in Beirut. With the Global Network for Academic Public Health, we have expressed our great sadness and solidarity with the people of the Lebanon who continue to suffer so much and now carrying this additional burden. We will be discussing further with Professor Iman Nuwayhid and his colleagues at the American University of Beirut about how our members in the new global network can help.

I am also pleased to note that the presentations from the most excellent Better Future for Healthy Ageing conference in Zagreb in June are now all available on Youtube. My presentation – ‘Dying young as old as possible’ is here. The other presentations including excellent ones by ASPHER superstars Josep Figueras and Jose Martin-Moreno can be found on these links:

I am grateful to Mirjana Kujundzic Tiljak for her vision and commitment in making the conference happen, and to Mislav Selendic for his great technical help to me and I am sure others too.

Now as we return to more and difficult business – campaigning, teaching, planning and implementing services to protect and improve the health of the people we serve – let us all strive with new resolve to do it to our very highest standards!

I would like to thank our Secretariat Robert Otok and Lore Leighton for the immense and additional service they have given me, and ASPHER this summer. Well beyond the call of duty. Do join us for the General Assembly on September 10th. ASPHER is your organisation. We are growing in strength with the active involvement of more of our members and more of our young professionals. Do play your part in the work of ASPHER so we can support you with greater services in future.

My very best wishes for your good health and safety in these difficult times.

John Middleton
President, ASPHER
August 28th 2020

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