Upon completion of my MSc exam from Dhaka University, I started working in the area of laboratory diagnosis of infectious diseases in a rural part of Bangladesh Teknaf in the year 1985. To make a long story short, I got my Ph.D. degree in Medical Microbiology from Japan in 1994 and since then I fully engaged myself in the field of clinical microbiology and public health.
For the last 24 years, I have been working as a Clinical Microbiologist at The British Columbia Centre for Disease Control Public Health Laboratory and had the opportunity to tackle many outbreaks e.g., West Nile virus, Zika virus, Syphilis, Lyme disease, to name a few.
I am also fortunate to work in one of the best Public Health laboratories in North America. However, I have never seen or even thought of what we are going through over the last 16 months with the SARS Cov-2 or Covid 19 pandemic.
Over 35 years of my experience as a Clinical Microbiologist as well as a research scientist, I have never experienced anything like what we are experiencing with this unique pandemic caused by the SARS CoV-2 virus. If my memory serves right, at the beginning of early January 2020, we all are a bit downplaying about this virus.
The common buzz words then were "it's a simple flu", "summer will take care of it", "it will die down like many other viruses in a few months", and many such sweet quotes. Then when China found this virus is unstoppable, WHO alerted everyone and shared the whole genome sequence in early January 2020.
In record time, we set up the diagnostic PCR test. The disease started jumping from one country to another and then to continents. The infection rate and the number of deaths started increasing in every country at a record rate. In the USA alone, we have witnessed over 30 million cases and over 556,000 deaths.
Scientists around the world started to see SARS CoV-2's ugly face and tried their best whatever they could do. In my long professional life, I have never seen such scientific progress to understand and combat this virus either.
To my knowledge, over 200 companies are involved in developing test kits; over 200 companies are working on vaccines; millions of physicians around the world are experimenting with different combinations of medicine to reduce deaths; and hundreds of companies are trying to invent new drugs to cure this disease.
These all are no doubt exemplary achievements in our generation! As a result, within a record time, hundreds of excellent PCR, antigen, and antibody tests become available for our uses. 13 vaccines out of over 200 got emergency authorisation for use and all of them have good phase 1 to phase 3 trial records compared to many vaccines such as influenza vaccine.
Many products for the treatment also received emergency authorisation such as antiviral Remdisivir, monoclonal antibody-based products such as regeneron; investigational convalescent plasma therapy, and they become highly effective to reduce or completely kill SARS Cov-2 viruses from infected individuals.
Although all of these efforts are in place, access to them all in a timely manner is another challenge. For example, the way vaccines are reaching the low to mid-income countries and if we do not face any roadblock; it will take at least up to 2023 to get everyone vaccinated.
When it is challenging to bring food at the end of the day for a significant number of people in Bangladesh, how will people avail highly expensive diagnostic tests and as well as expensive treatment? And even if the residents are provided those free of cost, will we be fully safe?
What is the truth? Have we been able to tame the virus? The simple answer is no. The virus seems always one step ahead of us. When we thought we had a good grip, SARS CoV-2 even became more powerful by creating different variants e.g. B. 1.1.17, B.1.351, P.1, and many others. Those variants are either more transmissible, more virulent and the vaccine becomes less effective or a combination of all three.
Are we seeing this mayhem only in poor and middle-income countries? The answer is NO. As Bangladesh is seeing the uprise of cases, so do many European, Middle Eastern, Africa, North, and South American rich countries that have stellar medical facilities.
Many of these countries are experiencing 3rd or even 4th waves. So let's stop blaming each other. The bottom line, our future is not rosy, not for any one of us, and no matter where we live, who we are, and how we look like, what is our religion or whether we are rich or poor.
All of us living abroad, a bigger portion of our heart are still roaming in Bangladesh and the fact we always think about our motherland, families, and friends. Every day hearing about death news of closed one, hearing no bed available in hospitals, cases and number of deaths are escalating again. Hearing these every day is not easy when you are thousands of miles away from your loved one.
So what should we do now? I think now is the time to act together for our survival. As JF Kennedy once said "Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country," I would modify his proverb, rather than blaming, government, or anyone else, let us pledge and practice what we can do for the person next to me.
My humble request is that we all wear masks religiously and force our children, parents, siblings, and neighbours to do the same. We will practice washing hands and try our best to keep physical distance. Above all, let us also pledge we will get the vaccine as soon we are able to get access to it. The use of a mask and hand wash appears to be a simple practice, but believe me when I say that this simple practice can work wonders for us.
Dr Muhammad Morshed, PhD, SCCM is a Clinical Microbiologist and Program Head, Zoonotic Diseases and Emerging Pathogens, BC Centre for Disease Control, Vancouver and Clinical Professor, Dept. of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada. Email: [email protected]
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.