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Soumya Swaminathan gets Excellence Award at AAPI summit

Former WHO chief scientist stresses the importance of investing in public health and primary healthcare

Dr Soumya Swaminathan, former World Health Organization (WHO) chief scientist has been conferred with the prestigious Prof P. Brahmayya Sastry Oration & Dr TmRavi Raju Excellence Award.

She was presented the award during AAPI’s 16th Annual Global Healthcare Summit in Visakhapatnam on Jan 6 at an event jointly organized by Prof P Brahmayya Sastry Memorial Oration Committee and Andhra Medical College and chaired by Dr Abhijat Sheth and Dr Sridhar Chilimuri.

Read: AAPI Global Health Summit opens in Visakhapatnam (January 7, 2023)

“The coronavirus has evolved significantly since it was first traced in late 2019,” said Swaminathan noting, “From being a considerably deadly virus, it has now become less fatal – thanks to the vaccination initiatives across the world.”

She asserted that death rates are much higher in unvaccinated compared to vaccinated and boosted individuals.

The main lesson from the Covid-19 pandemic, Swaminathan said was “climate change, and it all boils down to what humans have done to the environment. Our lives are intertwined with the health of the environment.”

The vulnerable suffer a lot, and it’s important to focus on equity and help those who are left behind, she said stressing the importance of a public health approach, having good data, and research.

We are recovering quickly because of vaccines, she said, pointing out that over 13 billion people worldwide have taken the vaccine and 20 million lives have been saved due to it. The majority of deaths in the US were because of no vaccination, she added.

Swaminathan said vaccines are developed with high efficacy and safety, but the virus is trying to evolve, and each time mutations have allowed the virus to evade antibodies. “There are people who have not taken the vaccine and haven’t fallen sick, but that’s a matter of chance,” she said.

Covid-19 has also disrupted the education system and adversely affected access to nutritious food as a huge number of children depend on school meals, she said urging everyone to help children overcome and regain the loss they had to endure due to the covid.

Stating that the global pandemic is marching on, the noted scientist said, “Of the lessons I have learned since the pandemic began, the most important one is the significance of investing in public health and primary healthcare.”

Countries that invested in primary healthcare over the past decade or two are reaping the benefits now, she said. Another lesson is the positive role of science and scientists.

Read: 2023 AAPI Global Health Summit to be held in Visakhapatnam, India (December 27, 2022)

“The global collaboration between scientists to take forward advances in knowledge so that science is continuously informing our response to the pandemic has been encouraging,” Swaminathan said.

Emphasizing the need for partnership between the private and public sectors, Swaminathan said, “We also need to think about working with the private sector, which is already playing a very big role in technology. But we need to think about technologies that are considered public health goods.”

For the future, Dr. Swaminathan stressed, “We need to invest in strong institutional mechanisms and capacities in our regulatory bodies, research centers and public health institutions. We have seen so much fear, stigma and discrimination circulated on social media. This must be countered by health literacy.”

Dr Ravi Kolli, president of AAPI praised the accomplishments and contributions of Swaminathan and numerous healthcare leaders of Indian origin who have contributed immensely to the many ways, the world has been able to overcome the once in a century, deadly pandemic that has devastated the entire humanity.

Swaminathan was most recently WHO’s Deputy Director-General for Programs. A pediatrician from India and a globally recognized researcher on tuberculosis and HIV, she has 30 years of experience in clinical care and research and has worked throughout her career to translate research into impactful programs.

Read: AAPI’s 16th Annual Global Health Summit Inaugurated in Visakhapatnam (January 7, 2023)

Swaminathan was Secretary to the Government of India for Health Research and Director General of the Indian Council of Medical Research from 2015 to 2017. In that position, she focused on bringing science and evidence into health policy making, building research capacity in Indian medical schools and forging south-south partnerships in health sciences.

From 2009 to 2011, she also served as Coordinator of the UNICEF/UNDP/World Bank/WHO Special Program for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases in Geneva.

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