The possibility of a new pandemic—or even a new wave of COVID-19—is a major concern to the people, the authorities, and experts alike. In order to ascertain if the country is prepared for yet another outbreak, the Brazilian Society for the Advancement of Science (SBPC) invited epidemiologist Professor Pedro Hallal, from the Federal University of Pelotas, Rio Grande do Sul state, to speak at its 74th annual meeting in Brasília on Wednesday (Jul 27).

As far as infrastructure and the production of knowledge are concerned, Brazil is indeed prepared, the expert argued. Yet, Professor Hallal warns: “Fancifully, we have come to believe that the best tool to face pandemics is treatment. This is not enough. What should be done in such a situation is prevent people from getting sick,” he said, adding that an epidemiological approach should be prioritized first, not a clinical one.

“Brazil had the capacity and the intelligence to tackle the pandemic, but did not do it adequately. When you have a heart disease, you go to a cardiologist. If the problem is in your eyes, you look for an ophthalmologist. In a pandemic, hearing an epidemiologist is a matter of course, but sadly that’s not what happened in Brazil,” he noted.

It was a mistake, he believes, to first adopt a “clinical, individualized look instead of an epidemiological one, which is collective.”

Monkeypox

The delay among public authorities making important decisions may facilitate the advance of monkeypox, which has had approximately 900 cases in Brazil, he pointed out. The disease has been classified as “very worrying” by the World Health Organization.

“I have no doubt about how serious it is. I do, however, make one caveat: taking our past history into account, we are more capable of figuring out what to do than we were at the beginning of COVID-19. But it’s something that must be done quickly. If we delay, we may come to face a bleak picture,” the epidemiologist stated.

This week, Brazilian Health Minister Marcelo Queiroga said that Brazil “did its homework” regarding the monkeypox outbreak at the beginning of the epidemic. At a workshop on health surveillance held by the ministry, Queiroga said Brazil has geared up to deal with the virus by providing laboratories for diagnosis, identification of cases, and the isolation of patients.

Knowledge and infrastructure

Professor Hallal praised the knowledge produced in Brazil to deal with pandemic situations. “We have nearly a hundred graduate projects on collective health—55 of which academic, 41 professional,” he mentioned, adding that the country has “a network of public universities that concentrates over 90 percent of the national scientific production.”

Regarding the preservation of the quality of Brazilian research, the professor warns about the “brain drain” that has become more common in the national academic environment, with “many good students leaving the country to conduct research abroad.”

The country, the professor went on, boasts “the world’s largest public health care system,” the SUS. “We also have basic health units close to the homes of each Brazilian, and we have become a global byword for vaccination,” he argued.

Pandemic and social issues

The first challenge to be faced in order to stop new pandemics spreading throughout the country concerns social inequality, Professor Hallal argued. “Brazil has been dubbed the second or third most unequal country in the world. This is directly related to the potential [advance] of pandemics,” he remarked.

The epidemiologist recalled that COVID-19 arrived in Brazil via airports, brought by tourists traveling overseas. “In the first months, the richest 20 percent of the country were at greater risk. But soon afterwards the pandemic started killing more poor people than rich people. We then had a scenario of even greater inequalities,” he said.

Scientific communication

As a scientist, Hallal acknowledged scholars’ difficulties in communicating in an accessible way. The use of simple language when talking about scientific studies, he said, could prevent the people from being so easily convinced by fake news online.

“We have to be less arrogant so that people can access and understand what we’re producing. Even my doctoral students show tremendous difficulty explaining what we’re doing without resorting to jargon. It’s a crucial exercise, also important when we’re talking to the media,” he went on to say.

Hallal’s opinion was corroborated by the coordinator of the Greenhouse Gas Laboratory of Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE), Luciana Gatti, who also attended the conference. “We need to socialize knowledge and science if we are to keep flat-earthers and denialists out of this,” she said.

Source: Agência Brasil