The pandemic has been treated as a societal emergency, as it should continue to be before it can be contained and hopefully, treated and cured. Infectious diseases, especially those like COVID-19, are societal reminders that health and medical research remain as vital as ever. They serve as a reminder that we as a society are not invincible and have a long way to go in understanding not only the human body but how it reacts to and manifests different diseases.
In these circumstances, it has been an important time for our community to analyze the current situation and reflect. As previously mentioned, society as a whole has seen a worrying increase of mental health issues due to the sudden impact on our daily lives and the constant worry of bad news and fear-inducing guidelines for social conduct. However, society has not only been impacted by these short term, protective measures. Chronic illnesses have faced deprioritization in the face of this emergency, with potential repercussions that could impact the longer term running of hospitals and treatment for patients. Priorities have had to be shifted, particularly within hospitals, to be able to accommodate the sudden increase of patients and many hospital departments – both neurological and psychiatric – have seen massive cuts in the ability to see patients, with treatment such as non-emergency surgeries, chemotherapy, diabetes treatment and more interrupted and deemed non priorities.
Countless statements have been released from relevant health authorities, calling for awareness of the danger COVID- 19 poses on those already living with chronic diseases such as Multiple Sclerosis or Parkinson’s disease; the unacceptable and worrying triage guidelines in place regarding who to prioritize in an emergency and seemingly discriminating against patients living with Dementia; and even the overwhelming spike in mental health complications, such as depression, anxiety and stress brought on by the climate of panic, overwhelming number of deaths and bad news and the social distancing guidelines. As with many other diseases, neurological and psychiatric comorbidities and implications have manifested in COVID-19. Hospitals across the world have seen COVID-19 patients come in suffering seizures, strokes and confusion or agitation due to inflammation in the brain; alongside the first signs of the virus: headaches and loss of taste and smell.
If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it is that, as a society, we are not yet fully prepared nor capable to tackle the majority of health epidemics we are currently facing or will potentially face in the coming future. Understanding even the basic mechanisms of cancer took researchers decades. What can be said for new diseases like this, which continue to both confound and fascinate researchers all over the world?
The European Commission has proven that actively working together can make an impact and that, we, as a Union, have the ability to tackle whatever may come. It is then perhaps, a window of opportunity now to learn from these difficult times and to work to make a difference, in unity, as we transition through this new norma,l through pandemic scars, across Member States, from Horizon 2020 to Horizon Europe. During this shift, it needs to be ensured that funding is uninterrupted and adequate resources continue to be dedicated to addressing the burdens brain disorders place on our society. It is crucial that Horizon Europe begins with a robust and appropriate structure for research, particularly through maintained collaboration opportunities but also through other coordination mechanisms such as a unified and ambitious co-funded brain health partnership.
We are humans first. This was my most profound lesson. The speed with which different people
came together to help following the COVID 19 without asking questions really touched me. We must again come together and help. Many families are struggling with how to feed, health facilities still need PPE and other resources, prevention messages need to be carried to every part of our country. It is heartwarming to see initiatives springing up all around to respond to these pressing needs at community level. At a time like this, this is the only way to behuman, and Ihope we maintain it.
As we enter the predicted second phase, we have to play safe. Don’t get caught up this time around. Take nothing for granted. Don’t wait to be infected to believe it exists.You may never survive it.
Avoid crowded environment, observe social distancing, wash your hands frequently and use alcohol based sanitizers where appropriate. Eat balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables. We shall live to tell the story.