Five continents against a virus

“We will monitor the situation in hospitals and public health systems in five affected countries: Canada, France, Brazil, Mali and China,” said Kate Zinszer.

“We will monitor the situation in hospitals and public health systems in five affected countries: Canada, France, Brazil, Mali and China,” said Kate Zinszer.

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In 5 seconds

An international team led by an UdeM epidemiologist will seek to identify health systems on five continents that are best able to respond to the pandemic.

"Flatten the curve!"

That's the watchword in these days of COVID-19, as health officials try to relieve the pressure on hospitals treating people affected by the pandemic. But how exactly are they doing that? How are health systems adapting to meet the unprecedented needs created by the crisis?

That’s the question that public health researchers are asking in an international research project that has just been launched at Université de Montréal.

“We will monitor the situation in hospitals and public health systems in five affected countries: Canada, France, Brazil, Mali and China,” said Kate Zinszer, an assistant professor in the Department of Social and Preventive Medicine.

“In the end we will be able to draw conclusions on the best ways to fight a pandemic such as the one we are experiencing."

Leading a team of 17 researchers, the epidemiologist has received $500,000 from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and $300,000 from the Agence nationale de la recherche (France) to conduct her work over the next two years.

UdeM professors Christian Dagenais (Department of Psychology) and Caroline Quach-Thanh (Department of Microbiology, Infectiology and Immunology), along with Yazdan Yazdanpanah (a French infectious diseases physician) are the other co-investigators involved in the project.

The interdisciplinary team consists of epidemiologists, public health specialists, geographers and experts in social sciences and knowledge transfer. In a presentation, they said their objective is to identify the best care strategies and "share lessons learned across countries.”

In the summer and autumn of 2021 they will submit their recommendations to people responsible for the various national health systems: researchers, managers, hospital and public health professionals, and others.

Data difficult to compile

Their methodology will be based on a multiple-case type study.

"We chose those five countries because they represent five continents and are at different stages in the fight against the pandemic," said Zinszer, who, during a postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard University, previously studied the factors behind the Ebola and Zika epidemics.

One of the difficulties the researchers anticipate is obtaining reliable quantitative data, as methods of calculating cases vary greatly from country to country. They will rely primarily on qualitative data from observation sessions and interviews with health professionals. Epidemiological analyses will complement the databases.

The researchers say they want to understand and compare "the resilience of hospitals and their staff" who must work with public health officials in the countries concerned. "There is an urgent need to understand how public health organizations, hospitals and their staff are coping with the current crisis," they say.

The findings could be of use to managers and elected officials if the COVID-19 crisis continues for several more months  — and help them to deal with similar situations in the future, said Zinszer.

The goal? "We want to draw lessons for the future.”

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