August 21, 2020 | Friday
Credits: Bor Dobrin
Prof Bojana Beović, MD, PhD graduated at Medical School University in Ljubljana, currently acts as the head of the expert group for containment and control of the COVID-19 epidemic at the Ministry of Health of Slovenia. Beovic has a story to tell us and one which we can reflect upon and learn from during these unprecedented times.
Slovenia, member of the European Union since May 2004, went through relatively mild first wave of infections, and the country was in lockdown from March 13 to April 20 when gradual lifting of the restrictions started.
The infection was introduced to Slovenia by tourists travelling predominately to Italy. Relatively mild course of the first wave with no overcrowding of the hospitals and ICU’s was caused by rapid introduction of restrictive interventions.
Rapid response was most probably the consequence of the proximity of Italy and the information about the health-care situation in Northern Italy.
“After the first wave we had a period with very low infection rate that was followed by re-introduction of the virus this time from the South-East Europe. The re-introduction was a consequence of open borders, a lot of traffic between Slovenia and Western Balkans, and the resurgence of infection rate in the same countries. After the re-introduction of the virus we were able to lower the rate of imported cases with more stringent regime at the borders, but at the same time the re-introduced infection started to spread locally. Various family gatherings and similar events seemed to be one of important drivers of the spread, and in the last few weeks we have also observed the spread among co-workers. We are more or less able to control the situation with the restriction of gatherings and field epidemiology including quarantines, but we are well aware of potential of the epidemic to burst out again” Beovic emphasizes.
Several campaigns in Slovenia constantly point out the seriousness of the virus, all the while pushing people to be responsible and take preventive measures.
“We had and we still have a campaign encouraging people to keep physical distance, disinfect or wash their hands, wear masks, the campaigns are important and we believe that the campaigns should be stronger than they are at the moment. We are trying to advise the citizens in the media all the time, but in general we believe that campaigns and advices are not enough, they should be combined with compulsory interventions” says Beovic, also a specialist doctor of infectology and professor at the Faculty of Medicine in Ljubljana.
“There are two major problems that the ministries and the professionals have to deal with during the epidemic: the first one is to stop the transmission of the virus and decrease the number of cases. The other one, the organisation of the health-care system that should be capable to deal with epidemics. It includes primary health service that is able to triage the patients and organize accessible testing points, a good quality microbiology diagnostics in the laboratories that is widely available and timely, the field epidemiology that contains the outbreaks and also provides information of the patterns of the virus spread for the design of proper interventions, and then of course the hospital system that is able to deal with increased number of patients. In terms of control of the spread of the virus, the analysis of the first wave in several EU countries showed that lock-down is the most efficient method and is therefore recommended when the spread of the virus seems in-controllable. The lock-down should be lifted after the control of a large wave and replaced immediately with individual distancing, hand hygiene, mask together with field epidemiology and tailor-made interventions to control individual outbreaks” Beovic states.
In Slovenia, as in many other countries in Europe, a lot of people have been embracing the misunderstandings and conspiracies circulating in the overall discourse, very often linked to personal interest of politicians and big companies or even to the 5G network waves.
“The problem is somewhat similar to anti-vaccine campaigns. It is very important to be transparent and to explain the details of pathogenesis, clinical presentation and epidemiology of the virus in a language that general public can understand. Majority of people can understand the information and stop believing the conspiracy or no-existence of the virus. The minority of population that strongly believes in the link between the virus and 5G should probably not be addressed at all, it is not possible to convince them in any facts”.
Nevertheless, Beovic agrees that the virus is bringing a new world order and we have no other option but to adjust.
“This is the so called new normality and a small price to pay if we want to live our lives normally, retain our jobs, have children go to school etc. I strongly believe that the measures actually do not affect the substance of our lives, and it should be presented as such. Many people in Slovenia, also well-known personalities try to present the masks, distances and/or hand hygiene as something that compromises freedom and human rights and I find this very sad and discouraging. Health should be a higher value than the freedom not to wear masks, and someone’s freedom ends when affecting freedom of somebody else. The problem with the masks is that they better protect other people not the person that carries the mask, and this is in contradiction with the individualism and self-centred culture of today” Beovic points out.
By the end of this interview, we ask Bojana Beovic about her opinion on the collaboration neighbouring countries have had during last months, to jointly prevent the spreading of coronavirus.
“Good control of infection of each country is helpful for the neighbouring countries as well. We are not able to close the borders completely not to harm economy and individual people, and the extent of epidemic in one country has an impact on the situation in other countries. The state of the epidemic in a country should be transparent, and joint management of trans-border outbreaks including the collaboration of the border services should be established” Beovic goes on.
All in all, Beovic has a message addressed to Kosovo citizens, given her expertise in the case of Slovenia.
“If lock-down is indicated, it is very important to follow the rule and makes it successful in the shortest period possible. In is not pleasant but they should be aware that it is temporarily. After that we should all be aware that certain measures will last, and we have to accept the for the sake of our health and our lives. In generally for fine-tuning of the interventions that should be effective but with the least possible collateral damage close collaboration between professionals and decision makers is vital” Beovic concludes.