At the start of the new year, the question continues to arise about how the pandemic will end. Many experts predict that by the end of 2022, COVID-19 could become a seasonal disease. However, personal protection measures would remain, tests would be more affordable, more people including children would be vaccinated, and seasonal booster vaccines would become more of a reality.
In order to discuss this topic further, EMPHNET held a webinar titled “COVID-19 Fate During 2022” on Tuesday, January 25, 2022. The 90-minute session brought experts together to share their expectations about the fate of the COVID-19 pandemic during 2022.
Discussions were led by three public health experts: Professor of Public Health, Cairo University WHO Director General Special Envoy on COVID-19 for EMR, and Former Minister of Health, Egypt, Dr. Maha El Rabbat; Professor of Community Medicine, University of Khartoum, Undersecretary and Ministe of Health at the Federal Ministry of Health, Sudan, Dr. Heitham Awadalla; and Director of the MSF(OCB) LuxOR Unit on Humanitarian Operational Research and Epidemiology, and Elected President of EPIET Alumni Network, Dr. Amrish Baidjoe.
The session was facilitated by Public Health Expert and Associate Professor at Baghdad University, Dr. Faris Lami, and MD, MSc, PhD, Executive Director, GHD|EMPHNET, Dr. Mohannad Al Nsour.
In his opening remarks, Dr. Al Nsour welcomed the webinar participants and speakers to the first webinar of the year 2022, and he introduced the webinar’s focus. He then welcomed the second facilitator Dr. Faris Lami who introduced the webinar objectives.
The first presenter, Dr. El Rabbat, talked about the status of COVID-19 and where we are now. She stated that we are still in the middle of the pandemic and that the pandemic is continuing to bring unprecedented effects on our lives, economies, and education. She added that new variants are still emerging and that we should not underestimate Omicron as it still overwhelms the health systems. Moreover, there are still inequalities in vaccine distribution, finding that 84% of the population in Africa has not received any vaccines, which poses a significant challenge for ending the emergency.
Dr. El Rabbat also stated that no one is safe until everyone is safe, and vaccination coverage should reach 70% of the population by the middle of this year to achieve uniform coverage. She then concluded her talk by saying that it is still early for COVID-19 to become endemic.
In his presentation, titled “The COVID-19 pandemic certainties and uncertainties; is this the end game?”, Dr. Baidjoe shared insights into the global COVID-19 situation. He then moved on to talk about the knowns and unknowns of the Omicron variant. He also stressed the importance of investing in public health microbiology to enable us track the spread of new variants. Dr. Baidjoe then emphasized the importance of keeping vaccines uptake high.
The third presenter, Dr. Awadalla, discussed the impact of COVID-19 on the health systems. He introduced Sudan’s experience with COVID-19 response efforts. He highlighted aspects of success, areas of challenges, and their reflection on health systems. Dr. Awadalla then mentioned some of the positive impacts of the pandemic, such as strengthening coordination between parties, improving the capacity of health staff, and promoting tele-services. On the other hand, he said that some of the negative impacts the pandemic brought to the forefront include: over-exhaustion of hospitals, disparities, and inequalities, as well as creating parallel systems at the health system delivery level. In his concluding remarks, he stressed the importance of the WHO’s suggestion that countries need to achieve the optimal balance between fighting the COVID-19 pandemic and maintaining essential health services.
Following these presentations, Dr. Al Nsour facilitated a Q&A session during which participants engaged in the discussion. Dr. Lami then wrapped up the webinar by thanking the speakers and the attendees for their participation. The webinar was attended by 191 people, deeming it a successful webinar in the “EMPHNET WEBi Series” initiative.