October 30, 2020
This week, I had the pleasure of joining Dr Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (and affectionately known as ‘America’s number one infectious diseases doctor’) in a COVID-19 panel discussion moderated by University of Melbourne Professor Shitij Kapur, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences.
Dr Fauci and I have been longstanding colleagues through our work on HIV, and I fully agreed with his statement that COVID-19 presents a significant challenge in providing a uniform public health message. I’m inspired by his efforts to champion science, even when political leaders are sceptical and I am thankful not to have had a similar experience to Dr Fauci in Australia in relation to COVID-19.
We discussed the crucial role that leadership is playing in the public health response and the difficulties that bipartisanship can pose. For instance, in the US, mask wearing has been seen as a political statement. “The health of the nation shouldn’t be divisive,” Dr Fauci said, noting that it had been painful for him as a physician to witness. In Victoria, however, we’ve had a near universal uptake of mask wearing in recent months, which has been an incredible effort from Victorians and I am sure has played a role in reducing the spread of disease.
Dr Fauci and I have both experienced the power of science in in turning around HIV, transforming it from being a death sentence to a chronic disease. Without a doubt, effective therapies for HIV have been one of the greatest success stories in the history of medicine. We need the same transformational discoveries for COVID-19. Dr Fauci expressed a commitment to put resources into developing antivirals so that somebody with COVID-19 could be diagnosed and treated early. This could play a major role in tackling the pandemic.
The conversation was a clear reminder that investment in science is essential to a successful response to COVID-19, that scientists have a key role to play in influencing our governments and that any gains must be shared globally.
Written by Professor Sharon Lewin AO, Doherty Institute Director and APPRISE researcher