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Reasons for Hope in the Covid Era

by Imogen Cheese

Celebrating World Health Day is a no brainer. The very notion of a pandemic like the one we are experiencing was once unfathomable. Yet over the last year, we have watched as friends and family have fallen ill or even died as a direct result of Covid.

It hasn’t been just Covid that so many have died from – but certainly those with pre-existing ill health or medical conditions have suffered greatest. Last year, The Lancet medical journal here in the UK published an excellent article about Covid’s impact on cancer patients. It revealed that due to Covid, cancer deaths and complications would rise simply by lack of access to treatment, pauses in trials, and limited face-to-face consultations.

This after effect of the Coronavirus pandemic is well reported now. It’s the fine balance between priorities – stay safe and away from hospitals because of Covid, or tackle the residual legacy afterward.

A medical worry leads to an unexpected surprise

I recently saw a fabulous scenario on social media. A woman had relocated to Iceland for work. One day, she found a lump in her breast. This worry brought on more worries. Thinking of her own country’s health system, she anticipated high costs, issues with insurance payout, and lots of waiting. Before she had even seen a consultant, she was anxious and apprehensive.

Her colleague encouraged her to see the consultant at hospital. No appointment was needed, and within the space of a few hours, a visual exam, mammogram, ultrasound, and consultation had all occurred. It was simple and effective, and she was methodically guided through each department without fuss. She left hospital that day relieved that the lump was a benign cyst. She was given all the documentation she would need to share with her own medical team when she was finally able to return to her home country, along with a very apologetic receipt for less than $10 to account for the fact that she was not an Iceland resident.

On World Health Day, we should highlight instances like this. Health viewed holistically. It isn’t just a curative mindset to resolve a problem once it has become a problem. It is providing care at a higher level, accounting not just for medical treatment and resolution, but the emotional and financial burden of accessing high quality care.

What do the global statistics tell us?

Every year, the World Health Organization (WHO) publishes a report outlining global statistics and impressions of health. With the exception of Covid, we see the usual suspects in the latest report. We see fewer global maternal and childhood deaths, and since 2010, a year-on-year increase in high risk health factors even in developing countries, including obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Non-communicable disease impacted by these health factors, such as cancer, remain the world’s leading cause of death.

It comes as no surprise that we at Imperial are seeing an increase in the number of studies we are asked to support in those indications. More than ever before, we are supporting vaccine programs by facilitating delivery of physical supplies to global site locations, and also translating and producing materials to help guide patients and site teams through rapidly changing scenarios. In some instances, materials produced under Version 1 of a protocol are obsolete within weeks of production. All of this calls for speed and flexibility from everyone who runs and supports clinical trials.

Clinical trials are changing

The demand for decentralized trials is increasing. The very nature of these studies requires an increasing emphasis on data collection, plus the creation of a robust framework of checks and tests for analysis prior to, during, and after each stage of study endpoints.

Our industry is collecting data in many new ways. Thanks to the increased collection of data, we are able to spot areas of high unmet need more quickly. We can be more adaptive and work in a timely and cost-effective matter.

Several times, the WHO report I mentioned above describes large gaps and lack of availability of data. Countries and governments need to collaborate and invest in data and health information. This strikes me as perfect synergy for our industry.

We can collaborate with each other, and with other types of health care institutions that deal with the day-to-day health needs of the population. And most important: we can bridge the gaps of less advanced health care through innovation with clinical trials.

Reasons for hope

We shouldn’t take good health for granted, but we do. We shouldn’t expect treatments and cures to be available at the click of our fingers, but all too often, we do. For me, World Health Day is about trust confidence. Belief and faith that an inconvenience like a broken limb, or a more serious challenge like cancer, are hurdles to overcome rather than impossible obstacles.

When I was diagnosed with melanoma almost eight years ago, the health care provision available to me indicated there were no treatment options available. I turned to a clinical trials for excellence and hope. Our industry has the ability to transform lives. Speaking as a patient and as someone working in the industry, it’s remarkably satisfying to see that happen!

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