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Experts on the Consequences of COVID-19: The Pandemic Gives Impetus to Science and Technology

Experts on the Consequences of COVID-19: The Pandemic Gives Impetus to Science and Technology

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The Human Capital Multidisciplinary Research Centre and HSE University, in cooperation with the World Bank, held the conference ‘New Challenges of Demographic, Epidemiological and Medical-Technological Development: Search for New Models of Healthcare Development.’ The participants discussed whether the healthcare system was prepared to face the pandemic, how the latter affected lifespans and excess mortality rates, whether we can trust statistics, and what we should do to see ‘the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel.’  

Lilia Ovcharova

‘We would like to find the right answers and participate in the search for solutions,’ said HSE Vice Rector Lilia Ovcharova in her opening remarks. Renaud Seligmann, World Bank Country Director for the Russian Federation, believes that the pandemic has been both a disaster and a challenge, and has demonstrated the connection between social and material inequality and health rates. At the same time, it has spurred research and accelerated the implementation of advanced technologies in healthcare, which has made it possible to change the model of care for patients with COVID and chronic illnesses.

Vladimir Shkolnikov

In his report ‘Principal patterns of excess mortality and life expectancy losses across developed countries in 2020,’ Vladimir Shkolnikov, Academic Supervisor of the International Laboratory for Population and Health, noted that Russia, the USA, and Eastern European countries have seen a sharp growth in excess mortality, while Japan, New Zealand, and Denmark experienced a decline.

The reduction in life expectancies in Russia and the United States is almost equal. There was a higher mortality rate among young people in some Eastern European countries and the Unities States during the pandemic. Among the causes of excess mortality in Russia, Vladimir Shkolnikov named a relatively weak healthcare system, insufficient promotion of a healthy lifestyle and, as a consequence, worse health among elderly citizens than in Europe and the USA.

Evgeniy Andreev

Evgeniy Andreev, Head of the International Laboratory for Population and Health at HSE University, presented the report ‘Demographic consequences of the COVID-19 epidemic in Russia’ and spoke about sources of information on the course of the pandemic. He pointed out that the number of cases and deaths varied considerably from region to region and source to source. Mr. Andreev believes that the reason for this lies in the fact that statistics are seen as a reporting tool rather than a reliable source of information. ‘No one wants to be the worst or show the poorest scores, as this may lead to administrative punishment,’ he explained. ‘You are right that information is seen as a report on the work completed, rather than data needed to plan further actions,’ Lilia Ovcharova agreed.

Martin McKee, Professor of European Public Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Research Director at the European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies, outlined the theme of his presentation as: 'What needs to change? How must we prepare for the next pandemic?’ He sees inequality in access to healthcare as a systemic problem. In his opinion, it is important to identify people who could be classified as poor and who lead a high-risk lifestyle and to provide them with more comfortable life conditions. Analysis of the healthcare situation in 40 countries showed that even rapid and decisive anti-pandemic measures and considerable internal medical capacity were not sufficient to effectively counter the pandemic. The most important factor, says Martin McKee, is widespread testing. ‘If a significant number of people get tested and know whether they are infected, they will understand the threat level and work together with the government,’ he believes.

Vasily Vlassov

Prof. Vasily Vlassov of the Department of Health Care Administration and Economics at HSE University presented a report entitled ‘Is good science enough for good preparedness?’ In particular, he spoke about the importance of admitting mistakes. Prof. Vlassov reminded the audience that when the pandemic began, the WHO did not talk about the need to wear masks and did not admit that this was an erroneous approach. Conversely, the requirement to wear gloves in public places turned out to be ill-advised.

We need to foster people’s trust so that we can act together as a country

Liliya Ovcharova pointed out the need to unify health and social care and to put an end to confrontation in the development and production of vaccines. Martin McKee agreed that an agreement on vaccines is needed, saying that there needs to be more transparency and that there should be production facilities in many middle- and low-income nations. In a world where rich countries can provide extra vaccine doses while developing countries cannot ensure even a 10% vaccination rate, there will be no end to the pandemic.

According to Prof. Jeffrey Braithwaite, Professor of Health Systems Research at Macquarie University (Sydney, Australia), the pandemic has highlighted the social aspects of medicine. ‘We should strengthen public health preparedness for the next pandemic, invest more in it, because we were unprepared for the coronavirus,’ said Prof. Braithwaite.

Prof. Sergey Shishkin, Director of the Centre for Health Policy at HSE University and moderator of the session, summarized by saying ‘We have moved several steps forward in understanding the situation.’

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