From Global Health Researcher in Diseases of Poverty to COVID-19 Advisor
Dr. Quique Bassat (UWC Atlantic, 1991-1993) is a pediatrician with a special interest in infectious disease epidemiology and public health. He is the Head of the Malaria Programme at the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal), and has combined his clinical work with biomedical research, focusing on life-threatening diseases in parts of the world where many people do not have access to the fragile health systems that exist there. With COVID-19 entering the world’s stage in 2020, Quique’s research focus suddenly shifted:
“I have been heavily involved in two main research areas regarding COVID-19. The first is about evaluating drugs for the treatment of COVID-19. Here I continued with my internationally focused lens, working together with our long-term collaborators in Manaus, Brazil to show the futility of Hydroxychloroquine for the treatment of COVID-19 for the first time, as well as the potential safety issues related to it. These results were highly criticised in the context of a very politicised atmosphere, given president Bolsonaro’s open support of these drugs.
Back in Barcelona, the second focus point of my work over the last year involved groundbreaking research that showed children and adults to be similarly susceptible to COVID-19 infections, but that childens’ transmission potential to others appears limited compared to that of adults. This research brought us a long way in being able to advise the Spanish government on the strategy for reopening schools.”
The fact that the clinical research undertaken by Quique and his colleagues in the field of COVID-19 has such strong political implications means that Quique’s UWC education has become particularly useful this past year: “The work that I do has become highly politicized in this current global health crisis. Within this context, my UWC background has undoubtedly helped me navigate the meetings with governments I've been involved in this year, which vividly brought to mind our global affairs discussions at UWC Atlantic. The lessons I learned then are directly applicable to the diplomatic skills that are so important to my work today.”
Within these discussions, Quique’s past work in tackling poverty related infectious diseases remains at the forefront of his considerations: “My experience with diseases like Malaria has helped ensure that I always place equity at the top of the priorities list in any COVID-19 discussion. For the first time in many years, a problem traditionally associated with the Global South, or with poverty, has hit the North harder - meaning that global attention has suddenly (and finally!) focused on the disruptive power of infectious diseases. This is my normal everyday job, so the disruption caused by COVID-19 was no surprise to me. I've just seized the opportunity to express my opinions and provide my technical input on a problem which is so familiar to the Global South, but seemed to appear out of the blue in the Western World.”
When asked about what key learnings Quique will take away from this year in terms of how our world must move forward to meet the health challenges of tomorrow, he shared:
“The same key learnings that my work in infectious diseases in low and middle income countries has always taught me: put the most vulnerable at the centre, prioritise your scarce resources to those most in need and do not forget those who are often neglected. Globalisation has many positive aspects, but also many terrible ones. A disease that emerges in the forests of the Democratic Republic of Congo, or in a food market in Wuhan can quickly become global. We need to be prepared, and we must acknowledge that distance and remoteness are no longer good enough excuses to remain oblivious to the suffering that has long affected humankind.”