“The coronavirus has had it easier in dense and polluted cities”

For the World Health Organization (WHO), the COVID-19 crisis has taught lessons that should not be forgotten. This is how it manifests Maria Neira, his Director of Public Health, who participated in the closing ceremony of the I Symposium: Observatory of Health organized by EL ESPAÑOL. Instead of hoping for a vaccine to return to the “old normal”, for the WHO it is time to promote social and economic transformations to “build walls” against the new pandemics that are yet to come.

Neira obtained the title in Medicine and Surgery by Oviedo University before continuing his studies in Paris, where he specialized in Endocrinology and Metabolic Diseases at the René Déscartes University, and at Nutrición en el National Conservatory of Arts and Crafts. He completed his training with an international diploma in Emergency Preparedness and Crisis Management from University of Geneva (Switzerland). In Spain, he chaired the Spanish Agency for Food Safety and went Vice Minister of Health and Consumer Affairs between 2002 and 2005.

“We have learned that lCountries with the weakest healthcare systems they have been shaken harder. It is essential that Health is universal and free, “Neira lists.” It is also essential to have an epidemic response system in which they collaborate public health and clinicians. Not only the curative part can be addressed, but also the preventive part. The Epiodemiological systems, we have learned, are not just data collection: they require intelligence to analyze, interpret and make quick decisions“.

Intervention María Neira, I Symposium Observatory of Health

Among other assessments, the doctor highlights how health professionals have become with the crisis in the “referring “ that they should be, while the researchers, “who were in the dark, with sometimes precarious scholarships”, have shown that investment in science and education is essential. From there, it invites us to think of our health as in the vertex of a triangle connected to two other points: the animal health Y environmental.

“We are going to live with the virus for a while,” he warns, and it is time to continue learning: compare ‘back to school’ with a mask from Spain with that of Germany, where it is not mandatory, or why the epidemiological situation of Asturias is so different from that of the Basque Country despite the geographic similarities. In this sense, the WHO Director of Public Health is optimistic: “The ability to share knowledge has never been seen at levels like now, until, I would dare say, as a very positive competition.”


Indeed, the new coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 jumped from bat to man with probably other animals as intermediaries, but the reality is that the recent big epidemics, “including AIDS“, they have that same zoonotic origin. “And there will be more viruses,” he warns, due to the “environmental stress” that the production models that imply are producing “animal-to-human contacts that shouldn’t occurIn addition, factors such as environmental pollution that impairs respiratory health and the population density urbana they make epidemics more virulent.

The COVID-19 crisis has had a double standard, he explains: air pollution made urbanites more vulnerable, but on the other hand, the confinement cleaned the air of the big cities like it hadn’t happened in decades. From WHO they are committed to learning from experience, rethinking architecture, economics and work, and turning themselves into the digital transformation of which, Neira admits, they had some “fear”. Now, he says, “with Zoom you bring together the 70 best specialists in a discipline from home and at zero cost.”

“This is a time to rethink our cities, to look at ’emptied Spain’,” he says. The rural areas must regain attractiveness, well connected to the Internet to allow teleworking, and for families to value the possibility of living in less crowded places. “The good of healthy and green recovery is it going to build walls that protect health while generating jobs with new energies and forms of mobility “. To do this, however, “health professionals have a responsibility in transformation. We must leave the hospitals and make our voices heard“.

This transformation, however, will not take place without a leadership position that Neira demands for the WHO, asking for greater recognition by the authorities to support their work of coordination and equitable distribution of resources. “We need a global architecture for healthcare. I believe fundamentally in something called World Health Organization“However, he regrets the difficulties in making the recommendations the norm.” I would have liked have the legal capacity to curb markets that sold animals in contact with humans“.

“We must already worry about the next pandemic”

The Executive President and Director of EL ESPAÑOL answered this, Pedro J. Ramirez: “Fortunately, the WHO should not be invented because it already exists. What should be invented would be a Association of Friends of the World Health Organization“And both he and the newspaper he represents would be” enthusiastic partners “, because” the facts are shown that the problems of the humanity are global“. Ramírez has highlighted a phrase from one of the speakers at the Symposium, Juan Lopez Belmonte – “Until now we believed that the news consisted of seeing calamities in other countries” – and a verse by the poet John Donne: “We are all part of the continent, and if the bells ever ring, they do it for all of us.”


“Only from populist demagoguery it is possible to propose to turn our back on the WHO “, denounces the director of EL ESPAÑOL.” Those extremist voices, and in Spain there are alsoWho propose that our country distance itself from the World Health Organization, they will always have us in front of them. ” Ramírez thanked the 70 speakers for their participation who “have addressed all the angles of the fight against the coronavirus” and has urged to work to achieve that the objectives broken down as decalogue during the Symposium and shared by organizations, professional, business, the Ministry of Health and the WHO have continuity.

“We have to ensure that the success of these days is not something volatile,” he underlines. In this sense, it has announced the project of a Permanent Secretariat of the Health Observatory for the entities that have been part of the Table and give continuity to this impulse. Within this initiative, the director of EL ESPAÑOL has expressed his desire to “build a bridge with the WHO”, and thanked Neira for her collaboration: “It is a luxury that it is a Spanish woman who occupies the strategic position of Director of Public Health of the World Health Organization “.

Nieves Segovia, president of the SEK Educational Institution during the closing ceremony.

Pedro J. has finally slipped a spoiler about your next Director’s Letter: “I’m sure what happened in New York City in April 1955, when it became known that independent scientists validated salk’s vaccine against polio, that’s what will happen in the global village when the race for the Covid vaccine and drugs to alleviate it ends. It was also a disease that was transmitted by airway, also punished a vulnerable population -in that case the children, in ours the elderly-, it also left sequels such as a US president in a wheelchair and associated the image of the iron lungs as the last refuge of a suffering humanity. We will beat Covid like we beat polio, but we should start worrying today about the next pandemic“.

The closing ceremony also had the participation of Nieves Segovia Bonet, president of the SEK Educational Institution, who has highlighted the commitment to STEM skills but also the Humanities for “a new generation of students called to lead social change.” If the health system must change to focus on the patient, value, the educational must revolve around the student. “The consequences of the current pandemic are written in classrooms around the world. When the health and economic crisis ends, the era of Education will arrive. ”

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