LSMU And CINDI Collaboration Has Organised An International Seminar, Dedicated To Discussing New Opportunities And Challenges Arising From Evidence Based Public Health Science

The most recent global disease and mortality statistics show that world population health deterioration was fatefully influenced by both the COVID-19 pandemic, and by chronic non-communicable diseases (NCD), as well as their risk factors’ interaction with the pandemic – ideal conditions were created for the health crisis to evolve. Therefore, a term which was rarely heard until now – Syndemic, has become widely used, which summarises the infectious and chronic diseases’ synergic epidemic.

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On 29th September by the initiative of the LSMU Faculty of Public Health, Health Research Institute (Centre of collaboration with WHO in the field of NCD), LSMU International Relations and Study Centre and CINDI Collaboration, an international remote seminar Opportunities for Evidence-Based Public Health in the Aftermath of the Pandemic took place. 37 invitations only participants (presenters and listeners) from Lithuania, USA, Canada, Austria, China, Portugal, Poland, Finland, and Italy were invited. The event was led by the Head of the Health Research Institute Assoc. Prof. Mindaugas Štelemėkas.

In the introductory announcement the long-term WHO expert, our University’s former Rector Prof. Vilius Grabauskas, drew attention to the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic has shown how vulnerable is the human population. It was also noted, that infectious and non-communicable diseases have a common factor group – individuals’ behaviour – most often deciding their vulnerability.

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One of the main presentations in the seminar was prepared by the WHO representative Dr. Ruitai Shao. He reviewed the consequences of the pandemic to various countries, vulnerable groups. In the WHO representative’s opinion, response to the pandemic crisis should be universal and global – the creation of a universal world health structure shared funding mechanism for conquering the crisis as well as facilitation of accessibility to medication and technologies (i.e., telemedicine).

Of course, this world pandemic crisis has opened us up for new opportunities as well – it mobilised countries to strengthen healthcare systems, to create and implement remote medicine systems and networks, dedicated to NCD control improvement. It is gradually understood better, that much more attention should be paid to primary care and ambulatory care.  The WHO expert drew attention to the fact, that it is essential to pay more attention to preventative intervention research in the field of NCD – early diagnostics of oncology diseases, harmful behaviour health risk factors’ elimination, to better understand and manage population health literacy challenges related to refusal to vaccinate by parts of the population and/or to take part in disease prevention programmes.

Many interesting insights were provided by the Director of Prevention Research Centre at Washington University (St. Louis, USA) Prof. Ross C. Brownson in his presentation New Evidence-Based Public Health Opportunities. He discussed in detail, what is scientific evidence and what relation between individuals exists in relation to the political and organisational context. The scientist once more stressed, what is evidence-based public health (Kohatsu et. al., 2004): “it is a process, during which scientifically based intervention methods are implemented in an aim to improve population health”. The presenter drew attention to the fact that from the beginning of primary intervention and data collection to method implementation in practice, it takes around a decade or more. However, COVID-19 pandemic has shown, that science-based disease prevention methods can be rejected by a portion of the population, misunderstood, interpreted as damaging. This can be explained by a lack of general or health literacy, as well as misinformation – false information, disinformation. This phenomenon has gotten particularly strong during the time of the pandemic and in the future should receive much greater attention from the community of health sciences. Because of these reasons, the scientist proposed to learn the lessons provided by the pandemic and to pay more attention not just to scientific research, but also to the improvement of communication of healthcare knowledge.

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Leadership experience, fighting with the challenges of infectious and non-communicable diseases
– was presented by the former Minister of Health of the Republic of Lithuania Dr. Aurelijus Veryga. His personal experience as the Minister of Health is interesting, because during the first part of his term in office as the Minister of Health he tried to implement WHO recommendations, created and grounded in scientific research and dedicated to controlling health problems caused by alcohol consumption and smoking, meaning to control the factors of chronic diseases and the pandemic of chronic diseases. In the second half of his term in office the Minister A. Veryga had to open the “new front” – a battle on the rising COVID-19 pandemic.  Therefore, from the systemic, precise, long-term pace of alcohol consumption prevention, he had to refocus on the swift decision strategy. In both instances, there was no shortage of critics, sceptics, or opponents. Dr. A. Veryga noted, that on the battle front of NCD, in his opinion, no small victory has been achieved – alcohol consumption in Lithuania has been reduced by 1.5 – 2 litres per person, in the last 3 – 4 years when evaluating residents of the country of the age 15 and older. Therefore, Lithuania is one of the leading countries that managed to reduce alcohol consumption.

In the discussion after the presentations, the seminar was summarised as follows: even though not everyone understands that it is essential to learn the lessons of the pandemic, improve preparation for emergency situations, encourage international collaboration and pay more attention to vulnerable groups, but it is equally important to strengthen the competencies when battling the spread of health misinformation and in increasing public health awareness.

Prof. Linas Šumskas LSMU, VSF, Senior Researcher at the Health Research Institute
Professor the Prophylactic Medicine Department
Assoc. Prof. Mindaugas Štelemėkas, LSMU, VSF, Head of the Health Research Institute
Agnė Jašauskaitė, LSMU International Programme Coordinator at the Academic Mobility Department of the International Relations and Study Centre
Photographs by: Assoc. Prof. Mindaugas Štelemėkas and Agnė Jašauskaitė