What have healthcare professionals learned from the COVID pandemic to apply to future disease outbreaks? Dr. Syra Madad, a public health leader and epidemiologist, shared her knowledge of the lessons learned at the J. Rhodes Haverty Lecture “COVID-19, Ebola and Monkeypox: Healthcare Lessons Learned from the Frontlines.”
Dr. Madad, the senior director of the system-wide special pathogens program at NYC Health + Hospitals and co-principal investigator at The Institute for Diseases and Disaster Management, said there are two certainties in infectious disease outbreaks. Outbreaks will occur, and patients will present. Outbreaks are unavoidable.
In her work, Dr. Madad focuses on the prevention and preparedness, response and recovery from infectious disease outbreaks, emphasizing bio preparedness. She discussed a range of outbreaks from common to rare, vaccine-preventable to special pathogens citing epidemics of measles, SARS, COVID-19 to Ebola and what healthcare has done or not done to prepare.
When Ebola broke out in the U.S. in 2014, no U.S. hospital had fully prepared for the highly infectious disease. There were no universal protocols for correctly using personal protective equipment (PPE). Adequately trained staff were limited. Fortunately, that outbreak was small and contained.
Dr. Madad asked what should have been learned from the Ebola outbreak to apply to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many more hospitals would be on the frontline, and all needed preparation. Keeping healthcare workers safe was vital, and enough appropriate PPE should be available. Instead, workers stretched limited supplies of PPE well beyond proper use, putting themselves at risk. Under preparation caused essential PPE of N95 masks, isolation gowns and gloves to be in short supply. During the Ebola outbreak, PPE was extensive and expensive, but the number of workers needing it was low.
Ultimately, the primary lesson learned from the COVID-19 pandemic and the Ebola and Monkeypox outbreaks is that healthcare organizations must change the way they prepare from just-in-time strategies to just-in-case, with better funding and preparedness training.
How do organizations sustain readiness for outbreaks? Dr. Madad said that with bio preparedness, risks are not what sell leaders on preparation. Voicing consequences gets more buy-in. She also emphasized the importance of standardizing bio-preparedness metrics – how quickly the disease is detected when a patient presents, how quickly healthcare workers can access PPE, etc.
Dr. Madad concluded the lecture with two positive notes on handling recent outbreaks. In COVID-19, Operation Warp Speed, established by the Trump administration and sustained by the Biden administration, cut red tape in developing and producing safe, effective vaccines and made vaccinations possible on a large scale and at no cost to the consumer. Second, in the monkey pox outbreak, using trusted health advisors to share information made a difference in encouraging vaccination and establishing treatment centers for the at-risk population.
View the lecture recording here.