The Unthinkable

Dr. Linda Friedland
Opinion piece Dr Linda Friedland Executive Health

I am not an alarmist but Covid19 is a devastating illness. Do not be deceived by the myth that it only kills old people. This is simply untrue. It is so much more than just a respiratory illness. There are cardiac and neurological events as well as clotting pathologies associated with the severely ill of all ages.. Although, so far, we have done extremely well at flattening the curve in Australia, caution and vigilance is still required.

I generally do not panic. Quite the opposite. As a mum, grandma and a doctor with a long history in public and community health, I am known for being measured and possibly too calm in response to most common illnesses. My children will attest to the fact that I treated their colds and minor injuries with ‘benign neglect’. Not this time. I am still worried.

Global leaders are making extremely difficult decisions for us all. These are based on the facts and the limited science available.  In most cases they are doing their best. Unfortunately there are big holes in our scientific knowledge. What we know for certain is that the Covid19 numbers are still rising in many countries. We know for certain that the only power we have to stem this overwhelming pandemic in to keep our new measures of social distancing and hand sanitation in place. There are certainly thousands of robust clinical trials happening throughout the world and numerous top research centres on working on a vaccine, but we still have a long way to go.

Be wary of those who give you clear facts with bold confidence. The real experts express how much they just don’t understand.

We cannot say we weren’t warned about a pending pandemic. Fourteen years ago, Dr Larry Brilliant, the epidemiologist who helped eradicate smallpox, described what the next pandemic would look like. At the time, it sounded almost too horrible to take seriously. Now the unthinkable is here, and Brilliant, the Chairman of the board of Ending Pandemics, is sharing expertise with those on the front lines. “We are a long way from millions of deaths due to the novel coronavirus, but it has turned our world upside down. Brilliant is trying not to say “I told you so” too often. But he did tell us so, Besides working with the World Health Organization in the effort to end smallpox, Brilliant, who is now 75, has fought flu, polio, and blindness. In 2015, Bill Gates too, warned that the world was not prepared for a pandemic, and urged: “We need to get going. Because time is not on our side.” Since then the US instead cut some of its virus programs.

I truly believe we dare not become complacent yet and still need to take this seriously as some of our lockdown measures are eased. We are lucky in Australia that a combination of factors including the lockdown measures but also a lack of densely living populations plus other possible reasons have translated into better outcomes so far. The most remarkable thing about this pandemic is the opportunity to truly connect as a community of caring and compassionate individuals. Within the medical community and the greater society at large,  there are many amazing people doing remarkable things. But we can all do more. Much more as we navigate this uncertain time together.