Biomedical scientists are under pressure with the COVID-19 pandemic. At the front, they are defending the world against the novel coronavirus. At the back, they are keeping major diseases at bay to protect those who are vulnerable to the novel disease. Despite their position, their balancing act will define the future of health worldwide.
The balancing act of biomedical scientists in the fight against COVID-19 and major diseases was unveiled by researchers at Helmholtz Zentrum München, a research institute in Germany. Their commentary detailed how biomedical scientists around the globe are keeping human societies from losing the fight against illnesses. Although the majority of them poured efforts into the pandemic, some continue their research into existing major diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases and diabetes. Their actions will define the next generation of global health. The commentary was published in the journal Cell.
The Balancing Act of Biomedical Scientists and Health Professionals
The COVID-19 pandemic has created a transformative event for the world. The novel coronavirus challenged global leaders and medical professionals in handling a major public health threat, capable of causing chaos and death. But for biomedical scientists and healthcare professionals, the situation can be scary, exciting, and inspiring at the same time. This is because the brightest minds in related fields are working around the world to find a vaccine or potential treatment for COVID-19, while the bravest souls work tirelessly to assist the needs of patients.
At the Helmholtz Zentrum München – German Research Center for Environmental Health, a group of researchers commented on the balancing act of biomedical scientists all over the world. So far, the balancing act has prevented the collapse of human societies in the emergence of SARS-CoV-2, the virus of COVID-19. Even though the confirmed cases have already gone beyond 4 million, the global healthcare system, biomedical research facilities, and frontliners slowed down the deterioration of human populations.
"This does not mean, however, that we may lose sight of the challenges we are already facing and which are responsible for threatening the lives and quality of lives of billions of people. Delaying or putting at risk decades of intensive basic, translational and clinical research would be a risky course of action which may end up having the opposite effect," said Professor Matthias Tschöp, the senior author of the study and CEO at Helmholtz Zentrum München.
Tschöp referred to other health-related threats amid this pandemic: major diseases that could put people at risk of contracting the novel illness. Cancer, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and neurodegenerative diseases were some of the mentioned existing major health threats. In this ongoing crisis, the need to address these major diseases would be higher because people diagnosed with those conditions could be at risk of COVID-19. At the same time, facilities should be prepared to provide continuous patient care for those diagnosed with major diseases even during a pandemic. Otherwise, billions of lives could be lost from other diseases, offsetting what the world might gain from defeating COVID-19.
According to Our World in Data, an online source of research data, cancer accounted for nearly 10 million deaths globally in 2017. Cancer accounted for 9.56 million deaths, behind cardiovascular diseases, which accounted for 17.79 million deaths, followed by respiratory diseases at 3.91 million deaths, lower respiratory infections at 2.56 million deaths, dementia at 2.51 million deaths, digestive diseases at 2.38 million deaths, neonatal disorders at 1.78 million deaths, and diarrheal diseases at 1.57 million deaths.
Meanwhile, diabetes accounted for 1.37 million deaths worldwide in the same year. Cancer, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and dementia had higher death counts, compared to kidney diseases at 1.23 million deaths, tuberculosis at 1.18 million deaths, HIV/AIDS at 954,492 deaths, malaria at 619,827 deaths, and Parkinson disease at 340,639 deaths. The numbers showed the utmost need to improve patient care for major diseases, whether or not the world is engaging a pandemic.
Fighting the Pandemic and Major Diseases
While some countries are still in shock due to COVID-19, the research community and healthcare sector are already making changes to adapt to future health-related challenges. The most prominent change the healthcare sector implemented is the stay-at-home recommendation. It may not seem huge at first glance but the recommendation does two main things.
First, it prevents clinics, hospitals, and other healthcare facilities from being overrun by patients. The recommendation avoids unnecessary physical visits of patients who have minor illnesses, which may be treated at home or addressed through virtual visits by a healthcare professional. This helps reduce the chances of catching the coronavirus, decrease the odds of premature deaths, and lower the stress of health professionals.
Second, the recommendation cuts the possible exposure risk of patients diagnosed with chronic diseases. A person who has hypertension has a higher risk of contracting and dying from COVID-19, compared to a person without the condition. So, as much as possible, people who have preexisting health conditions are advised to stay inside their residence and never leave unless it is absolutely necessary.
Another change is the view of the world on the healthcare sector. Some countries failed to invest significantly in health and medicine. When coronavirus hit them, they realized the importance of research for innovative medical strategies, including the significance of dedicated centers for infectious diseases. If they had invested resources in the field, they might have enough funds to deploy and develop better solutions to mitigate the impact of COVID-19. The value of investment in health and medicine is shown in certain countries, particularly in Asia.
In an idealistic viewpoint, the biomedical world benefits from the arrival of COVID-19. The pandemic possibly inspired scientists to go forward with plans of disease eradication, which means more efforts in vaccination programs and treatment development. On the other hand, the pandemic most likely opened the eyes of the common folk to what healthcare truly means today. Those who realize its value should now recognize that country leaders must include healthcare in their platforms. It must also become a fully realized basic necessity on par with food, clothing, and shelter. Perhaps at the end of this pandemic, the world will finally listen and acknowledge healthcare professionals and biomedical scientists.