EDITORIAL BY
PROF. DR. GILBERTO CORBELLINI

 

When facing a pandemic threat or even a problem that generates less anxiety, that have both in common the fact that one does not know how to effectively and quickly deal with it, it is natural to appeal to personal or historical memory. We ask ourselves if we have already encountered that situation or a similar one, or if the culture provides us with useful examples in order to overcome the challenge. We look around, seeking for guidance.

On several occasions, during the Covid-19 pandemic, it has been discussed whether the experiences of past pandemics could teach us something. Firstly, regarding the non-pharmacological measures and secondly, regarding how to make the vaccination campaigns more widespread, thus overcoming the resistance to get vaccinated by a variable percentage of the population. We also wondered if the pandemic was foreseeable or if we should feel guilty of the zoonoses, due to the environmental impact of human activities.

Despite the attempts in finding scapegoats and also in the light of the disturbing information that were made public concerning the experiments carried out by the US and the Chinese researchers, aimed at making the coronavirus more aggressive in mice, the pandemic remains a natural phenomenon. This has caused a devastating impact on how the pathogen is transmitted, especially due to the current demography of human societies which records a significant presence of elderly and more susceptible people, and due to the accessibility and the potential of intervention of the hospital wards which are easily flooded in the absence of effective treatments. It took months and the overcoming of resistances to understand how to organize the healthcare approach in a more efficient way.

The ongoing pandemic has not benefited from practical lessons from past pandemics, nonetheless it will remain in history. Perhaps, not so much for its seriousness, which although significant is lower if compared to past pandemics, on the basis of the global impact it has had so far. Moreover, for the fact that, for almost a year, the most scientifically advanced medicine has struggled and we were all afraid. We were afraid, first of all, of the virus itself and then, we were afraid when we realized that those who theorized the eradication of Covid-19 (Zero Covid) at any cost while the virus was now endemic, were telling a fairy tale.

Medical science was not united in facing the pandemic threat and scientists have generally behaved as experts, or bearer of point of views, rather than as practitioners of a method that produces provisional but reliable knowledge. Nonetheless, at a speed

that the US administration has defined “curvature”, thanks to the synergies between basic research and industrial innovations, vaccines have glided and the arms race against the virus has really begun. It has continued in encouraging ways, although with many uncertainties that are a natural consequence when a Darwinian phenomenon is occurring on a global scale. At least, on the scientific and

technological level, we are ready to meet the challenge. The first medicines checked for effectiveness are also on the way.

The seventh edition of the Medical Science Festival will be divided into two parts. In the morning, mainly scientific-epidemiological issues will be dealt with, while in the afternoon mainly aspects of public health and clinic will be addressed. The Festival wants to create an opportunity for open and critical reflection, through 360 (three hundred and sixty) degrees, inviting authoritative scholars who in the last two years were at the battle front in different ways, whether it was a laboratory, an infectious disease department, an institution or a committee studying and coordinating treatments and healthcare choices or examining the diverse range of methodologies used to explain and to address the threats. We are in a particular phase in the evolution of the pandemic, namely the one in which human communities must find less superordinate ways of living with the virus: in other words, looking at the past, at a certain point, societies also had to come out, culturally or psychologically, from the emergencies

by stopping to focus their lives and their speeches on the impending presence of a pathogen. If compared to the past, today this way out would be even more viable, thanks to the vaccines.

For sure, we have not learned anything from the tragic experiences of the past. In terms of communication, which in Italy has been improvised and made in direct and contradictory ways, meaning that it has neither helped, nor encouraged more virtuous behaviors with respect to risks and prevention.

It is likely that we will not learn from the pandemic experience unless we start training doctors. A goal that goes beyond infectious threats. The philosopher Karl Popper thought that we learn from experience not by education, that is, by the effect of facts because facts or experiences select the best hypotheses that we develop to explain the world. Medical education and health strategies trudge along behind problems, rather than organizing the culture of future doctors. There is an urgent need to provide them with the ability to adaptively manage challenges that are, by nature, constantly changing. As a consequence, both knowledge and tools to solve the always rising new problems, need to change or improve, and hopefully more quickly.

 

Gilberto Corbellini
Scientific Director, Festival della Scienza Medica