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April 10, 2020

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Guidelines to lead to a healthier future

The recently released guidelines on coping with Shanghai’s major epidemic and public health emergencies (“Shanghai acts to better health setup,” April 8, Shanghai Daily) note the city’s success in the COVID-19 containment effort, while also identifying areas where there is room for improvement.

In architecting an early warning system, for instance, in addition to reinforcing existing mechanisms that have proved to be effective, the guidelines stress the importance of building up a coordinated, unified and highly responsive public health monitoring system.

Specifically, the system expects to evolve from unidimensional, where a clinician would report a suspected case direct to the supervising authority, to a multidimensional mode whereby alerts could be triggered across the board, through monitoring real time the medicine prescribed, detecting particular syndromes (for instance, cases exhibiting symptoms of coldness and fever) or analyzing medical test data.

This system, in warning about an epidemic at the earliest possible stage, would ensure the best containment effort by achieving early information reporting, early quarantine and early treatment.

This would, predictably, ride on the rapid advances in big data technology.

But no amount of technological tools could fully take the place of professional competence.

Hence the urgency of addressing the deficiency in public health professionals.

This lack could be better understood against the general perception of medicine as a profession.

Some complaints about the profession include excessive stress, lackluster pay and sensitive doctor-patient relations (which could turn violently fatal in extreme cases). A considerable portion of medical graduates chose to opt out after a few years of employment in the sector.

In a recent media interview Hao Mo, professor from Fudan University Public Health College, stressed the critical importance of building up a strong talent pool in the public health sector.

The catchword is, of course, a proper salary. As a first step, experts say that the compensation gap between those working in the public health sector and those in public hospitals should be narrowed.

The cultivation and retention of talent in public health sector is, naturally, an issue of strategic importance and would have a direct bearing on how healthy the city can be in the future.


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