The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the world. The virus will not be the last pandemic to wreak havoc on humanity if we continue to ignore links between infectious diseases and the destruction of the natural world. Global health and economies are both at serious risk without proper containment and mitigation measures in each country. Moreover, panic and xenophobia are already on the rise, both of which are being intensified by misinformation and fake news.
In order to mitigate the transmission of the virus and to intervene in the course of this pandemic, the world needs to take rapid, synchronised international action. While governments across the world are taking action to mitigate the transmission of the virus, we need greater engagement with science to support decision-making that both directly and indirectly impacts health in the short, medium and long terms.
As such, it is crucial that governments consider the best science available to make informed decisions that are internationally coordinated and supported by local evidence. As a co-lead of the Science Advice Working Group of the Global Young Academy (GYA), a scientific society which comprises 200 members and 258 alumni from 86 countries, I am pleased to communicate our position statement which delivers four specific recommendations to governments:
1. Promote a shift from global health security to global health solidarity
Although we may need to temporarily close local, regional and national borders to contain the spread of COVID-19, in the long term we need to change the current framing of health security. Instead of believing that one can protect borders from the incursion of disease, one should build global partnerships that benefit our collective health. This can be achieved by strengthening international cross-border or regional corporations, and by facilitating an active learning and knowledge exchange, particularly between low- and middle-income and high- income countries. Scaling up efforts in research and development (R&D), and mobilising R&D resources to relevant areas is essential, as is formulating sustainable science policy responses. This pandemic – both during and after the necessary states of emergencies – is likely to impact how we live together in societies around the world, as well as our politics and respective cultures. We ask that decision-makers consider and include everyone in building more resilient societies so we can collectively determine common positive pathways for the future.
2. Open information exchange
Governments should exchange information about health and environmental crises immediately and openly. Governments should support permanent and robust science advice mechanisms that can reliably inform governments of the latest scientific insights. Even when diplomatic relations are strained, science diplomacy and scientific networks should be supported as these will be essential in times of emergency. The current pandemic also underlines the need for governments to implement open science policies. Current pay-walled publication practices delay the sharing of information and prevent key stakeholders from accessing relevant scientific insights. It is laudable that publishers make research on COVID-19 available for free for a restricted period to help fight the virus, but this only underscores that scientific research is usually hampered by restricted information exchange, costly authoring or reading fees and artificial barriers. The free exchange of pre- and post-prints as well as scientific data – without embargo – should be supported, recognised as valuable contributions, and should have no negative consequences for researchers. We urgently need global consensus and action on open science, e.g. through the mediation of intergovernmental organizations like the UN and UNESCO.
3. Recognise the importance of different disciplines for decision-making
The science used to understand this pandemic is evolving rapidly, with new knowledge on the virus and disease being gathered and generated daily by researchers, physicians, and virologists across the globe. Therefore, effective and transparent communication with the scientific community in decision-making processes is vital, with an emphasis on what we know, what we do not know, and where there is uncertainty. With that said, the pandemic presents wide-ranging social and economic challenges, and it is imperative that we harness the potential of knowledgeable researchers from diverse perspectives (i.e., across discipline, gender, ethnicity, country, and age) to quickly assess and contribute to government decision-making prior to implementation. Further, in this rapidly changing situation, we need the advice of experts in an environment where full peer review is not always possible. Young researchers are ideally placed to contribute insights and analysis of implications that can then help avoid unintended negative consequences. We call on governmental agencies to 3 seek, obtain, and consider input from their National Young Academies (which exist in >40 countries) and groups of leading young researchers who are committed to science in service of society.
4. Take into account the long-term impact
While at this stage there is a crucial focus on limiting the spread of the virus, we urge governments to include in their planning the long-term impact of the pandemic and the importance of prevention. The effects of physical isolation on mental and physical health are likely to be felt globally. We suggest a preventative approach to address mental and physical health by involving strategies, such as online platforms, during the time of isolation and afterwards to assist the most vulnerable in society (e.g., assistance in obtaining groceries and medicines, psychological counselling and consultation to address post-pandemic stress and mental health problems). It is also important to have an approach to address the strain on the physical and mental health of all the healthcare and other personnel working in the frontlines of the outbreak (extensive working hours, pressure and stress, exposure to the virus and other illnesses, as well as being separated from family). While some measures have already been implemented in hard-hit areas, additional structures and support will be required for less developed and rural areas. After the worst of the pandemic has passed, governments at all levels should reflect on collaborative strategies to prevent and reduce the risk of future pandemics through action across sectors (beyond the health sector) that influence health, including universal health coverage.
This statement also delivers specific recommendations for the scientific community and for the public.
The full text (and its infographic summary in 20 languages) it is available at: https://globalyoungacademy.net/publications/beyond-boundaries-a-global-message-from-young-scientists-on-covid-19/ and could by cited as “Global Young Academy (2020) Beyond Boundaries: a global message from young scientists on COVID-19. Zenodo, http://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.3727699”.
Contributors to the statement: Paulina Carmona-Mora, biochemist, United States. Victorien Dougnon, microbiologist, Benin. Sandeep Kaur, chemist, India. Shabana Khan, geographer, India. Robert Lepenies, political scientist, Germany. Boon Han Lim, engineer, Malaysia. Sandra Lopez-Verges, virologist, Panama. Felix Moronta, biologist, Italy. Connie Nshemereirwe, educator, Uganda. Justine Nzweundji, plant biologist, Cameroon. Tolullah Oni, physician, United Kingdom. Wibool Piyawattanametha, biomedical engineer, Thailand. Anet Režek Jambrak, food engineer and food scientist, Croatia. Anina Rich, cognitive neuroscientist, Australia. Michael Saliba, physicist, Germany. Yoko Shimpuku, nursing scientist, Japan. Velia Siciliano, medical biotechnologist, Italy. Udi Sommer, political scientist, Israel. Fernando Valiente, biochemist, Chile. Koen Vermeir, historian and philosopher of science, France. Andre Xuareb, physicist, Malta.