Professor Mary Horgan, RCPI President, gave the 2022 Arthur E Mills Memorial Oration at the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) Convocation Ceremony in Melbourne on Saturday 14 May. During the ceremony, she was awarded an Honorary Fellowship of the RACP.
Speaking to a global healthcare community at the Royal Exhibition Centre in Melbourne’s vibrant CBD, Professor Horgan took a moment to reflect on our shared journey navigating unprecedented challenges of a global crisis.
“Our belief and trust in science has brought us together once again,” Professor Horgan said, acknowledging a return to vital in person gatherings.
“We have arrived at a better place, stronger, more resilient, and with a public that is more informed than ever about medicine, science, innovation and research, and the benefits they bestow on us as a society.”
As an infectious disease specialist, Professor Horgan, took her position among Ireland’s Medical and Scientific Leadership team to develop a pandemic response, at a time when, as she put it, “everyone was an expert, yet no one was an expert in this new infection”.
You can read excerpts from the oration below.
A GLOBAL PANDEMIC REQUIRES A GLOBAL RESPONSE
Interconnectivity, collaboration, cooperation and information sharing are essential for a unified global response. In the beginning it felt like it was every country for itself with no two countries adopting the same strategy. With time, the EU adopted a more unified approach with vaccination access, travel and easing of lockdowns. Data sharing within Europe allowed Ireland to predict future waves and the responses required.
Ireland, as a small country, leveraged our global connectivity to collaborate in research and education early in the pandemic. The Royal College of Physicians of Ireland worked with its diaspora and existing research networks to contribute to the scientific effort.
These things made it possible for the College to rapidly pivot existing training and education platforms to provide weekly up-to-date reviews of the diagnosis, management and prevention of infection and disease, essential to our frontline doctors and HCPs. Our knowledge was expanding daily. We had to keep pace with it by distilling huge amounts of information into digestible messages by involving experts from Ireland and far beyond.
Global vaccine equity is in every country’s self-interest as controlling the infection globally prevents new waves and new variants and should remain in our focus. There is an onus on us to ensure supply, yes, but more importantly, that infrastructure for administration is supported in LMIC and that the issue of vaccine hesitancy is meaningfully addressed.
Core to this global response is our commitment to follow the science and a sense of humility in combatting an increasingly complex disease as it unfolds.
Acceptance of uncertainty, the absence of zero-risk and the unknowns, is integral to our pandemic response and to our communication with the public. It is essential to be honest with the limitations of our knowledge at any given point in time while assuring the people that we are agile, flexible and rapid in changing recommendations as the scientific evidence evolves.
SOLUTIONS INFORMED BY CROSS SECTIONAL EXPERTISE
Increasingly evident is the need to bring together cross-sectoral and cross-speciality communities of experts when shaping solutions to complex and evolving challenges.
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact health, society and the economy. Understanding the full extent of the virus and its impact takes time and resources.
Cross-sectoral perspectives beyond science and medicine are required to assess the impact of measures to contain the pandemic. Consideration of the social, psychological and economic ramifications of public health interventions like lockdowns and vaccination programs require assessment by a range of experts.
I believe stronger cross-sectoral input is needed at the earliest stage of any pandemic. The mantra that a healthy economy equates to a healthy population should be embraced by all. It is fundamental to social justice.
We continue to watch things evolve in real time and respond with the information we have at that time. It is essential to evolve as the information evolves, to keep an open mind, to be willing to listen to others and change your viewpoint and recommendations. Data and evidence and frontline experience in real-time should be the guiding light for change.
Never more so than in a pandemic, does community response play such a significant role in navigating success or failure.
We have the most educated population ever – digitally literate, understanding well communicated data-driven and scientifically-robust decision making, embracing new diagnostics such as rapid home testing. We are also seeing elevated understanding of the importance of the public’s participation in research from study design to contribution to answer the important scientific questions about disease far beyond COVID-19.
Engaging with communities such as patient advocacy groups, sporting organisations and NGOs who understand their needs (especially of our marginalised members of society) is essential.
We are fortunate in Ireland to have had this buy in, an example of which is 95% of over 16-year-olds being fully vaccinated.
Our communities should be acknowledged for their hard work. We need to treat them as equals in our fight against disease and move on from paternalism in the practice of Medicine and Science.
Adopting these learnings will help our future preparedness for pandemics.
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
No matter how well prepared we are for the next pandemic, the unexpected will happen. But what we have are the tools, the talent, the public buy-in and the political will, which combined with a commitment to adapting to constantly evolving data and evidence at every point in time of a crisis, empowers us to face future challenges head on.
As we move forward, it is essential to adopt the best we have learned over the past couple of years. New technology, new communications tools are there to empower us. New, and potentially more efficient patient journeys can be a legacy of the pandemic.
Let’s not waste the crisis.
In her closing remarks, Professor Horgan shared a poem, written with Professor Chris Fitzpatrick. The poem was published in a collection by Chris Fitzpatrick – Poetic Licence in the Time of Corona, published by Twenty-First Century Renaissance.
Professor Horgan was conferred as an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians at the event, an honor she accepted with great pride as acknowledgement of her contribution to healthcare and to the education and training of medical professionals.