Navigating Current and Future Pandemics with Dr. Kamran Khan
Following his talk, we spoke with Dr. Khan and explored how our frontline workers can be better equipped to safely and quickly deal with pandemics.
Many challenges the healthcare system faced at the beginning of this crisis, including overcrowded hospitals and overworked personnel, arose in part because we expected our frontline workers to immediately understand how to treat a new disease. But Dr. Khan explains why that isn’t a fair assumption:
“The initial point of contact between an infected patient and the healthcare system is very vulnerable. We assume that our frontline healthcare workers are going to know how to recognize diseases that they may have little to no experience with. While our healthcare workers are working valiantly to save lives during this pandemic, it’s not possible for them to maintain a global panoramic view of infectious disease threats across the globe in real-time.”
So how do we prepare them? Dr. Khan explained the importance of investing in education and prevention, at a global scale: “An astute clinician can literally stop an outbreak in its tracks. So the world needs more astute clinicians who are better able to protect themselves from contagious diseases, better able to protect their patients, and better able to protect the rest of us by preventing one case from becoming ten or a hundred or a thousand. ”
This is part of Dr. Khan’s life work, building BlueDot health, to create awareness of emerging infectious disease outbreaks around the world.
“BlueDot’s epidemic intelligence platform channels awareness of global threats to hospital leadership so they can effectively manage risk. [We] curate and organize global data from a combination of official and unofficial sources. While official reports from government public health agencies are typically verified, they are also frequently slow. On the other hand, BlueDot uses AI to curate and process vast amounts of unofficial data to pick up news of emerging threats, often well before government agencies report on them.“
Infectious diseases don’t necessarily become global pandemics. As Dr. Khan references in his TEDxToronto talk, over the last decade, the World Health Organization has declared a global public health emergency once every 20 months. Outbreaks of this significance are health emergencies, and they also have significant repercussions on our globally interconnected economy. As he explains “Businesses with international operations are now recognizing they need timely epidemic intelligence tailored to their global geographic footprint so they can mitigate risks to business continuity, maintain critical supply chains, and protect the safety of their employees and customers.”
And what can the rest of us do?
Despite not being medical experts, each of us play an incredibly important role in the health of our overall environment. Dr. Khan suggests that we look at this in a two-pronged approach.
Firstly, because we now know that many emerging diseases arise from animal populations, we can all take a deeper look at the “decisions we make about the food we eat” including reducing the quantity we consume and where we source our food from. Secondly, we can help our healthcare providers get us out of this pandemic as quickly and safely as possible by “doing the things you’ve heard from the public health community” like washing your hands frequently, wearing a mask, and social distancing.
Experts like Dr. Khan and companies like BlueDot are working tirelessly to protect our communities and help us face the current pandemic and those yet to surface. We hope that our discussion with Dr. Khan has widened your understanding of how deeply interconnected the systems are, and helped you better understand how experts in public health and technology keep us safe.
Stay tuned as we publish more additions to Stories from the Frontlines over the coming weeks.