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The Global Health Network and the Knowledge Exchange for Covid-19

Jeremy Whitty - Director of Development at The Global Health Network | IE Business School

Sustainable research teams sharing knowledge related to Covid-19 has made the Global Health Network an important tool in the new pandemic.

Jeremy Whitty, Director of Development at The Global Health Network and International MBA 2008 graduate, immediately turned part of the online platform designed for several international programs to build sustainable research teams and promote knowledge exchange related to Covid19. Read how this IE Business School alum shares his expert knowledge with us about the current coronavirus pandemic.

 

What was the driving factor towards the establishment of The Global Health Network- TGHN?

Ten years ago Trudie Lang, who is Professor of Global Health at Oxford built The Global Health Network (TGHN) as an online platform for several international programs building sustainable research teams and promoting knowledge exchange, especially in Low and Middle Income Countries. To date TGHN has 41 ‘Communities of Practice’ each sharing their know-how in different disease areas, disciplines and regions. So far over 1 million courses in research skills have been taken by uses of the platform and many 100,000’s of templates, protocols and guidance documents have been downloaded and used.

In parallel, I established a number of master programs including a Master of Science in Regulatory Sciences, one in Clinical Research and another in Pharmaceutical Medicine, which is the discipline of drug development from a medical perspective. You can look at drug development from many different perspectives including pharmacological, epidemiological and now, pandemiological. I may have just invented that word.

As TGHN developed research capacity around the world, I was training the principle investigators and scientists who lead, fund or regulate global research and because our respective approaches were complementary; for example it is important everyone uses a common terminology and regulations and data are interpreted consistently, we joined forces to offer a complete set of education and professional development programs, communities of practice and resources to improve global health research.

 

In the whirlwind of Covid-19 pandemic, what impact can platforms such as the Global Health Network have by sharing research and medical information across global regions?

The solutions are complex and multiple, however they do not really differ between regions and so sharing and exchanging knowledge can affect change on a global scale.

Covid-19 is fundamentally changing how medicines and vaccines are developed, how public health programs are implemented, hospitals are managed and how patients are treated. In the long term many of these ‘pandemiological’ innovations, will be for the better, especially if applied to other areas that need urgent intervention, such as climate change.

In the mid term, we expect to see a significant impact across a number of key performance indices we use to measure the effectiveness of the programs we are involved in.

 

What has the Global Health Network done so far in relation to tackling CoronaVirus?

At TGHN we immediately built a ‘pop up’ hub to share information and hold webinars. This resource will become more permanent in a couple of weeks, but it shows how quickly many people are responding to the challenge. Most of our content is in English but we are quickly sharing knowledge in other languages, for example we hosted a research webinar in Portuguese on March 31st.

 

Based on the information that is being shared on the TGHN so far, what are the main suggestions you have for the global health society and the individual nations in tackling the current pandemic?

Engage everyone in hand washing, respiratory hygiene, and physical distancing. There are questions about the level of testing needed, for example Iceland is carrying out testing in the general population, even for those who are asymptomatic. Iceland has a population of 364,000 so that might not be possible in other countries, but as a general rule, we should test as much as possible. And anyone showing symptoms should self isolate for 14 days.

Based on feedback from researchers, a combination of the following challenges should be prioritised:

  • Protect health workers, if our health workers are sick, we are all in trouble.
  • Apply optimal approaches to surveillance and case detection by following guidance from public health experts such as the WHO who are making the best decisions based on the current data.
  • Run therapeutic trials (supportive care and treatments) as soon as possible.
  • Conduct disease characterisation studies in various co-infection / comorbidity settings as soon as possible.
  • Study impact and measures in fragile health systems and plan to mitigate the worst case scenarios now, before they become a reality.
  • Actively engage the community, because as a people we have the power to end this pandemic sooner rather than later.
  • Study ways to minimise impact of quarantine and social restriction measures on communities. It’s important to escalate measures at the right time to ensure buy-in a compliance.
  • Identify pre-symptomatic cases, this will require more research and resources, but is very important.
  • Develop point of care diagnostics.

 

What are your thoughts on the ‘herd-immunity’ approach that is being proposed by countries such as the UK? Should this be seen as a feasible solution for more countries to take?

I live in Ireland who are not doing this, so it’s hard to comment. I think up to mid-March the British government were looking at herd immunity, but once they realised their models were based on the wrong assumptions, I think they changed strategy very quickly. Hopefully, they did so in time.

Sweden is an interesting case though, they have much looser social restrictions than the rest of Europe. They say they are trying to allow the virus spread slowly without overwhelming their health system, and without draconian restrictions. They claim they are not following a herd immunity approach, and I really hope they are not because that approach puts all vulnerable members of society at risk in order to prevent a hypothetical ‘second wave’ next winter.

 

What is to be expected from the TGHN platform in addressing the Covid-19 pandemic in the mid-term?

Increase our resources providing support to researchers around the globe, helping them learn what preventative measures, trials and practices can control and eventually cure this disease. We plan to launch a post graduate diploma on global health research in October 2021 and talking with many stakeholders I think Covid 19 will be our main topic for research.