COVID-19: the gift of health through shared knowledge

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Humanitas has been working with the conviction that knowledge about the various advances against this pandemic must be publicly shared to allow new therapies and treatments to be developed and implemented more swiftly thanks to the exchange. Humanitas’s work springs from the premise that the creation and transfer of knowledge requires everyone’s collaboration so that it can be translated into concrete actions for incorporation by medical authorities around the world.

The fact that Italy was one of the first countries to be hit by COVID-19 has given Humanitas researchers the opportunity to collect significant amounts of research and medical data on the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which has helped the medical community to better understand the nature of the disease and improve treatment, even as the pandemic continues to spread around the world. The experience and research shared by these medical professionals in Italy has enabled many other countries to mitigate the impact of the pandemic.

The Humanitas Research Center network in Italy is part of the Techint Group and has been actively sharing not only the knowledge accumulated in Italy, but also a significant amount of data collected through their constant interaction with other major research centers in different countries.

On this occasion, Humanitas summoned over 170 medical professionals from 30 communities in various countries (Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Guatemala, Ecuador, Colombia, Mexico and Italy), where the Techint Group is present. During the meeting, participants had the opportunity to interact and ask Humanitas health professionals questions, with simultaneous translation into English, Spanish and Portuguese.

The presentation was headed up by Dr. Alberto Mantovani, Emeritus Professor of the University of Humanitas and Scientific Director of Humanitas, considered one of the leading immunologists of our time, and the most quoted Italian researcher in international scientific literature. In a recent interview with the Corriere della Sera, Mantovani stressed that scientific research is "the only seat belt that humanity has" before this and many other diseases.

Dr. Mantovani was flanked by Dr. Salvatore Badalamenti, Director of the Humanitas Unit, as well as Dr. Elena Azzolini, Deputy Director of the Humanitas Medical Health division and Dr. María Teresa Sandri, Head of the Humanitas Analysis Laboratory Operational Unit.

Mantovani began his presentation with a simple premise, quoting the Greek philosopher Socrates, "I only know that I don't know," giving him the opportunity to highlight two very important points regarding the current pandemic: as not enough is known about COVID-19 yet, it is of the utmost importance to generate, gather and share all the available knowledge about the virus. He then shared a link to a recent report produced by the Italian Lincean Academy, "which is where you can find out everything you ever wanted to know about COVID-19." He also referenced documents produced in cooperation with Professor Maurizio Cecconi from the Università-Medicina Humanitas in Milan, which highlight the latest knowledge concerning the origin, mechanisms and treatments available to combat this new virus.

Among the positive news shared, Mantovani pointed out that the most complete study undertaken so far to identify the complete sequence of the virus genome has just been completed for the Lombardy region, where 346 isolated genomes have been sequenced. "The main message that this achievement gives us looking forward is that the virus is stable, with very few mutations, which gives us hope for creating vaccines and new treatments."

After that, Mantovani, together with Badalamenti, Azzolini and Sandri, opened the floor to the participants, who took the opportunity to discuss different topics related to the disease. They ranged over subjects such as the advantages and disadvantages of different testing methods, patient treatment, the use of plasma in severe cases, the protocols to be followed with asymptomatic patients, the possibilities of reinfection in cured patients and managing different forms of isolation for each kind of patient.

However, the main message that the Humanitas professionals shared was the need to continue producing scientific knowledge about the disease. There is still much that remains to be discovered, and far more knowledge needs to be created in order to treat it effectively, which is all the more reason why medical professionals and research institutes have a duty to share their findings with the global health community. The Humanitas doctors offered to share all the research produced and collected by Humanitas with all those taking part at the conference.

What the participants said

Participants from around the world at the video-conference had the possibility to share their own experiences of the impact of the disease on their practices, and acknowledged the value of the knowledge shared by Humanitas to help them tackle the pandemic in Latin America.

"The pandemic reached Italy earlier, so their doctors are always one step ahead of us," reflected Marcelo Medina, Director of the Municipal Hospital of San José de Campana in Argentina, who was taking part in the event from TenarisSiderca. "Everything they’ve had to deal with and learn is very helpful for us in terms of saving time as we work together with the private sector and other medical centers in the region to try and curb the spread of the virus."

Meanwhile, Daniela Arndt, who is an infectologist at the Nuestra Señora del Rosario Clinic in Argentina stressed that the information provided by Humanitas acts as a preview of what is yet to come in the fight against the disease in Latin America. "I found this to be a very fruitful exchange with experts from countries that had to deal with the virus before us, and they shared with us how they handled this situation," said Arndt. "It helps us to confirm many of the things that we are seeing right now with the virus."

Mauricio Campanella, from the San Felipe Hospital, highlighted the value represented by this degree of collaboration with the Humanitas team. "It very encouraging to be able to share these learnings and experiences in such a serious and well organized environment. Our intention is to continue working together. At our Hospital you will always find a group of people who are ready to join in this type of activity."

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