No Sympathy, No Humanity
When public health disaster strikes, the lab heroes step in
I had the privilege of being invited to moderate a session at a very special event hosted by the Royal College of Pathologists earlier this month. Held in London, this was by no means a UK-centric event; “Pathology is Global” aimed to highlight the role of pathology and lab medicine in humanitarian disasters and public health emergencies and it did so in a captivating, thought-provoking, emotional, inspiring way.
“I’m happy to be here and I’m happy to be alive,” was Sahr Gevao’s poignant opening sentence. Heading up lab services in Sierra Leone during the Ebola outbreak, Gevao witnessed the tragic deaths of many of his colleagues, and though his account was filled with sad stories and shocking statistics, he delivered his presentation with pride. Because, in spite of the dire geographic infrastructure, and the paucity of labs, staff, equipment and facilities, the dedication and compassion of the people that he worked with led to many lives saved, even though their own were at high risk. And what I found heartening was Gevao’s commitment to helping others who may find themselves in similar situations – based on his own harrowing experience, he gave recommendations on what could be done to help save lives quicker.
As tough as I’m sure it was for Gevao to relive those memories, his presentation followed that of Professor Amy Patterson, who gave a no holds barred account of the international response (or lack thereof) to public health emergencies. In a nutshell, if you’re not able to generate the sympathy vote with the media or you’re seen to be culpable in any way for a health emergency, you fall down on the priority list for international response. In the case of Ebola, Patterson flashed up images from US press of an African man holding a bat, with the article suggesting bush meat was the source of Ebola and hence responsibility lay with the relevant communities for the spread. “Perception is so important to organizations and policymakers,” she said. According to her, it wasn’t until Ebola appeared to be an international threat, and one that the West wasn’t immune to, that a full-scale international response was triggered. Please don’t assume that Patterson was very matter-of-fact about this; she was, I sensed, impassioned and angry. Imagine how Gevao felt? And his wasn’t the only heart-rending story of the day.
This was one of the best events that I have attended and I’m honored to have shared a room with some truly inspirational people. I really hope to be able to do some of these stories justice in future issues of The Pathologist. Watch this space, but in the meantime, take a look at some of our social media coverage of the event (1).
After graduating with a pharmacology degree, I began my career in scientific publishing and communications. Now with more than 16 years of experience in this field, my career has seen me heading up editorial and writing teams at Datamonitor, Advanstar and KnowledgePoint360 group. My past experiences have taught me something very important – that you have to enjoy working with, and have respect for your colleagues. It’s this that drew me to Texere where I now work with old colleagues and new. Though we are a hugely diverse team, we share several things in common – a real desire to work hard to succeed, to be the best at what we do, never to settle for second best, and to have fun while we do it. I am now honored to serve as Editor of The Pathologist and Editorial Director of Texere Publishing.