As year-three of the COVID-19 pandemic begins, global health experts have obtained increasingly more data and are digging into it to better understand how the virus will continue to impact populations around the world. That focus includes recognizing how long COVID, mental health, community health and environmental impacts are — and will continue to be — concerns for worldwide public health.
UB’s 11th Annual Global Health Day Symposium, held virtually this year, recently brought together experts from the World Health Organization (WHO), the National Institutes of Health, academia, medicine, public health and the Western New York community to share insights about the next stages of response to the pandemic.
Keynote speaker Janet Diaz, clinical head of the WHO program responsible for readiness and response to emerging infectious diseases, highlighted post-COVID conditions and patient advocacy. Even patients who were not hospitalized with COVID-19 (i.e., most patients) have persistent, burdensome symptoms months following infection, she said. Patient advocacy groups have tasked WHO with three areas to focus on in response to the issue: recognition, research and rehabilitation.
“Post COVID-19 conditions remain under-recognized, and though awareness is increasing, it is not increasing fast enough,” Diaz said. The good news is that governments are beginning to commit funds to ongoing studies, she said.
Each panelist shared their data, collection methods and findings, including:
- Thomas Russo, SUNY Distinguished Professor of Medicine and chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at UB, spoke optimistically about how vaccinations are decoupling cases with hospitalization and severe disease. He encouraged booster shots while cautioning that a significant minority of the unvaccinated still exist.
- Avindra Nath, clinical director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorder of New York and National Institute of Health, discussed the long COVID symptom of “brain fog” (encompassing cognition and executive function), which is a complaint of nearly all patients with lingering symptoms. His findings, concluded from autopsies of brains from COVID patients, are that these long-term neurological complications will be akin to dementia.
- Lina Mu, associate professor, Department of Epidemiology and Environmental Health, UB School of Public Health and Health Professions, reported a 25% increase in anxiety and depression worldwide since the start of the pandemic, with younger adults, women and underrepresented people identified as the most vulnerable groups.
- Yinyin Ye, assistant professor, UB Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering, discussed using wastewater-based epidemiology to provide estimates of cases, and prevailing COVID variants, within a population.
- Meng Wang, assistant professor, UB Department of Epidemiology in Environmental Health, examined the correlations between air pollution and COVID risk groups, as well as how lockdowns reduced greenhouse gas emissions.
The Global Health Day Symposium is sponsored and produced annually by UB’s Office of Global Health Initiatives.