COVID-19 in Romania
On the day that the World Health Organisation declared COVID-19 a public health emergency of international concern, I was trying to finish a lengthy laboratory experiment. The cloud of uncertainty was becoming denser as each day passed, and my thoughts were split into many directions. I was especially worried – like most of us – about the people who are dearest to me. Since my family and many of my friends live in Romania, I began to look very closely at how the pandemic was developing back in my home country.
Having previously worked on infectious diseases and public health issues in Romania, I knew some of the strengths and weaknesses that would likely have their say in how the pandemic would be managed. With this in mind, my desire was to contribute to a better handling of the challenges posed by COVID-19 and use my experience and skills to achieve this. As such, during the early stages of the pandemic, I became involved with Romanian public health authorities and several NGOs, with the aim of providing solutions to the crisis.
The main activities that I carried out involved informing authorities and public figures about the epidemiological aspects of COVID-19 and the need for implementing appropriate control measures. However, I believe that the most fruitful outcomes stemmed from communicating with non-governmental entities. Perhaps the most important achievement was establishing active dialogues with highly influential institutions such as the Romanian Orthodox Church, which voluntarily implemented social-distancing measures and likely reduced the spread of the virus before lockdown was enforced by the government. For me, this proved that the most important tools at our disposal during public health emergencies are efficient channels of communication. If used to their fullest potential, they can penetrate all levels of society in order to inform and guide collective actions during such challenging times.
In late March, as the number of cases was increasing sharply, I received the dreadful news that my parents became infected and tested positive for COVID-19. A part of me knew beforehand that this scenario was not at all implausible, given that my mother is a doctor at the local hospital. Indeed, Suceava – where I am from – was one of the most severely affected regions in Romania, and my parents were among the many that had to fight with the disease. Fortunately, both my parents recovered without suffering any major complications, and this event further motivated me to get involved in managing the COVID-19 pandemic in Romania.
The reasons why Suceava became the epicentre of the pandemic became the main focus of my work, as the events which unfolded there could have easily happened and could still happen in other regions of Romania. In the following weeks, I began examining the ways in which the pandemic was handled by analysing various public health aspects including medical infrastructure, healthcare decisions, and sociocultural factors. The results of my endeavours were published in Frontiers in Public Health and have since received extensive coverage by Romanian press agencies. In the numerous television or radio broadcasts that I was subsequently invited to, I further stressed the importance of individual responsibility with regards to sanitary measures and social distancing. At the same time, I also provided explanations to the general public about the biology of infections and how vaccines work to protect us against diseases.
Currently, I am part of an international consortium of scientists that was brought together by the Embassy of Romania in Germany in order to consult authorities on issues concerning the immediate and long-term impacts of the pandemic. Together, our aim is both to reduce the burden caused by COVID-19 in Romania and use the lessons that we learn for the benefit of other countries.
Stefan Dascalu (2018, DPhil Bioscience – Interdisciplinary Bioscience (BBSRC DTP))
Published: 10 September 2020