Research, public outreach in health the need of the hour: expert

Soumya Swaminathan, Chief Scientist, World Health Organization (WHO), addressing the 8th and 9th joint convocation of the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER), Thiruvananthapuram, on Wednesday.  

Soumya Swaminathan, Chief Scientist, World Health Organization (WHO), has underscored the importance of sustained investment in R&D in health and the need to make sure that credible information is available to the public during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Swaminathan was addressing the 8th and 9th joint convocation of the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER), Thiruvananthapuram, in virtual mode on Wednesday.

Sustained investment in R&D would eventually pay off, she said. Investment in the mRNA technology over the last three decades had resulted in the development of the highly successful mRNA vaccines against COVID-19. “Some of the other vaccine technologies also have proven to be effective and very safe. But this doesn’t happen overnight. The mRNA technology is one game-changing technology that has proven itself and has come of age and everybody of course wants access,” she said.

The WHO was working to establish mRNA Technology Transfer Hubs and the first would come up in South Africa, she said.

Dr. Swaminathan said the WHO’s ‘living’ approach to guidelines, where guidelines and recommendations were constantly updated based on the latest data and evidence, had been particularly relevant during the pandemic. The WHO hoped to extend this approach to other health areas as well.

The spread of wrong information and the anti-science, anti-vaccine campaigns during the pandemic had served to confuse the people. The pandemic had forced scientists to communicate in a way people could understand, she said. “The lesson for us is that if scientists do not communicate, we will be in a situation where people will only be getting the wrong information,” she said.

Touching upon health research, she stressed the need to shift the focus to middle and low-income countries. Much of the research at present was carried out in the high and upper middle-income countries. Consequently, the fruits of the research also were going into those countries, she pointed out.

Further, the pandemic had emphasised the importance of the study of social and behavioural sciences in ‘nudging’ people to make healthier choices, she said. “Knowledge or information does not translate into behavioural change (in people), you need very specialised techniques to understand how people think, what are the levers and triggers that could change behaviour.”

A total of 292 BS-MS students, 39 PhD students, and seven Integrated PhD students, who completed their studies in 2020 and 2021 graduated on Wednesday. IISER, Thiruvananthapuram, director J.N. Moorthy, and Board of Governors chairman Arvind A. Nattu also spoke.

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Printable version | Sep 25, 2021 1:08:31 AM |

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