OMA Spotlight on Health

Planning for the next global health crisis

April 01, 2022 Ontario Medical Association
OMA Spotlight on Health
Planning for the next global health crisis
Show Notes Transcript

Dr. Ross Upshur discusses lessons learned from COVID-19 and strategies needed to prepare for future pandemics. 

Spotlight on Health - Planning for the next global health crisis

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Georgia Balogiannis: In this podcast the Ontario Medical Association looks at current issues of interest in health care. Spotlight on Health gives you all the straight talk. We're Ontario's doctors and your health matters to us. I'm Georgia Balogiannis for the Ontario Medical Association. 

On this episode, we delve into lessons learned from COVID-19 and strategies needed to prepare for future pandemics. Dr. Ross Upshur is a physician at Hennick Bridgepoint Hospital and scientific director at the Bridgepoint Collaboratory for Research and Innovation.

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Dr. Ross Upshur: Unlike the first wave, which was small, or the Delta wave, which was challenging, I think we're in a much better position with a large number of medical countermeasures to respond to any surge in cases that we might see. We're not in a defenseless state. Not only do we have very effective vaccines, we have increasingly powerful medications that can be delivered in the hospital for very sick people, but oral medications that can be used in the community.

I think we should be incredibly grateful to the hard work that all frontline clinicians — be they physicians, nurses, respiratory technologists, public health practitioners — that everybody has done. We are still ready, willing and able to respond, but we still need to have the tools and the public support to do our jobs to the best of our capacity. I think we've shown with Omicron and with Delta that we are capable of managing this, but we need the resources to do it.

I think everybody's exceptionally tired. Would we be happy to see another wave? Absolutely not. Would we roll up our sleeves and get down to doing the work? Absolutely. We need to be vigilant and we need to be prepared and we need to support frontline health care providers to be able to do their job.

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Dr. Upshur: If we're going to talk about pandemic planning and preparing for the future, we need to really seriously take into consideration the recommendations that are made and have a process for evaluating whether those recommendations are being acted upon and implemented.

The only lessons we've learned from previous epidemics is that we don't like to learn lessons, and a lot of the things that have happened are structurally the same. We're repeating, you know, we're spinning our wheels and doing the same thing over and over again. This is our opportunity to not repeat mistakes from the past, to actually create a system that's resilient, not wait for the epidemic to be declared and then say, "Where's all our resources? Where's our stockpiles?" The most important step for pandemic preparedness is to have a plan.

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Dr. Upshur: If we're going to truly have a better pandemic response, we need to remember that pandemics are global events and we're only as strong as the weakest link in the global community. We're not safe until everyone's safe. The real star of the show, I think technologically in terms of COVID response, has been the capacity to use sequencing to actually give us insight into the evolving and changing nature of the viral pandemic — early identification of variants of concerns, variants of interest, global collaboration and global networks. And Canada needs to pitch its future response to pandemics as part of a global response.

So, what can we do? Well, we have huge intellectual capacity and ability in the scientific and clinical communities that we have here in Canada, and we can start to enhance capacity to produce vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics, support regional networks globally. What we found as a bit of an Achilles heel is the concentration of vaccine production in only a few locations. We put together a new facility in Canada, we should think of that as a global public good and find ways to be involved in the preparation and distribution of low-cost vaccines in future pandemics. Because, as they say, we're not safe until everyone's safe.

So, we've learned that we have the capacity to rapidly identify variants, to rapidly develop, implement and evaluate vaccines, and the same for therapeutics and diagnostics. But I think what we ought to be doing is aspiring for Canada to be best in class in pandemic response – we utilize all of our assets, academic and clinical, provincial and national, so that we're able to not only protect our own population, but to make strong contributions to global health and global security as well.

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Dr. Upshur: I think that what individuals can do is exercise their democratic franchise to vote for candidates and governments that support, uh, robust public health and pandemic preparedness. A pandemic is a global event; there's really, to be honest, not much that individuals can do in their day-to-day life. I think a lot of the things that they can do to mitigate climate change would actually do a lot to help prevent and reduce emergence of new viruses.

The usual things about personal hygiene that we've learned are really important, keeping yourself as healthy as possible. That's going to stop you from being vulnerable for a pandemic, but the forces that actually shaped pandemics are global, they're large, and they require coordinated efforts from global institutions.

The most powerful thing anybody has is a vote in a democratic system to ensure that governments are responsible because it's a public health responsibility to create resilient, healthy communities and part of that is health promotion, but health protection. So, we need to be supporting those governments that will actually protect us and improve our health.

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Balogiannis: This podcast is brought to you by the Ontario Medical Association and is edited and produced by Jodi Crawford Productions. To learn more about the Ontario Medical Association, please visit

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