While the pandemic seems to have gone beyond the peek in many European countries and most of the restrictions have been relaxed, the situation is still quite worrying in Latin America. WHO reported by the end of May that for the first time this region concentrated the largest number of new daily cases, outpacing the US and Europe. Brazil only became the second country globally in terms of total infections.
Two months before the pandemic outbreak in Wuhan, Fine Research, Latin American partner of the Open World Network organized a survey in this region and the US about how prepared these countries were to face an epidemic. In the light of what we know today, results became not only truly shocking but unexpectedly prophetic, confirming the ill-preparation that was already evident for most of the physicians across the Americas.
With the start of the pandemic, the agency specialized in data collection in LatAm, decided to start a series of projects on COVID-19. The objective of that program was to make available its research capabilities and the online physician survey platform to support the public, the medical community and the health authorities with evidence and insights useful against the pandemic.
The initiative was designed as an open and collaborative work so while it has been overall sponsored by the ESOMAR Foundation and Save The Children, have also received contributions by many companies and organizations. The list include: Confirmit, Delvinia, EBSCO HEALTH/DynaMed, Datum, Ipsos, Observatorio 87, PBG, Provokers, Unilever, The Pharmaceutical Marketing Group, YOUNIVERSAL, DIMM Magazine, Brazilian Association of Research companies (ABEP) and of individual researchers (ASBPM) as well as ESOMAR.
Toluna and Reckner Healthcare have supported the pre-pandemic survey, and M3 Global have brought on board an interesting global project for the Birmingham University aimed to improve COVID-19 testing which we included in this pro-bono program.
The topics were grouped into four main axes: evidence around COVID-19, assessment of public policies, insights about the impact in the medical practice and future post-pandemic scenarios.
Some of the key lessons have been:
1. By late May the region was polarized between those HCPs who believe that restrictions should be relaxed in a gradual and controlled manner and those who think that controls should be maintained or tightened.
2. The number of COVID-19 patients reported in the survey is line with public information reported by WHO, confirming that by late May, most affected countries were Brazil, Mexico, Peru, Ecuador, Panama and Chile. However, evidence of suspicious cases and testing suggest particularly high levels of underreporting in Brazil, Venezuela, Ecuador, Mexico and Panama. While tests are considered reliable, they are not enough. Thus, in most countries are not even covering patients at risks and with symptoms. Tests are also taking much more processing time. If in the US and Europe, this is around 1-2 days, in LatAm the average is 4 days.
3. By late May most doctors saw Peru’s hospital resources as already collapsed, including the availability of hospitalization beds, IT areas and respirators. In Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, Brazil and Venezuela these resources were perceived as having a high short-term risk of collapse.
4. Despite the limitations of the hospital infrastructure, in most countries the LatAm region has improved it, compared to the results seen in March, with the significant exception of Brazil.
5 The majority of hospitalized patients have been people showing pre-existent pathologies, particularly Diabetes, Cardiological diseases or respiratory diseases.
6. In all countries, there is an abrupt drop in patients seen in general by HCPs, significantly affecting adherence in all kinds of diseases, including potential life threatening diseases such as Cancer, HIV, Diabetes, respiratory, cardiological or autoimmune diseases.
7. The main perceived risks for the doctors are associated with the lack of protective material and lack of protocols. Doctors need clear training not only for the treatment of COVID-19 and the use of protective equipment, but also for the care of all types of patients, whether in hospital, office or virtual.
8. The pandemic has emotionally affected doctors, and the vast majority say they suffer from one or more of the following effects: fear of infection, anxiety, tiredness, difficulty sleeping, isolation, anguish, uncertainty, or irritability.
9. Those who are in the front line are especially affected by fear of family and personal infection, pressure from the work environment, and fatigue.
10. The imagined post-pandemic future will imply an important impact on the physical and emotional health of the population, as well as a profound transformation of the health ecosystem and the modalities of medical care, with new protocols and an increased use of telemedicine.
While the obtained results were shared in several webinars, and published in sites and leading media in over a dozen countries, the program is working on updating the evidence so please free to reach out if you have any relevant ideas or contributions to support this program.
The latest webinar and report can be freely accessed at: https://newsletter.pharmamkt.net/critical-challenges-that-physicians-are-facing-during-the-pandemic/