The Spanish Society of Epidemiology has taken stock of the year 2022 by compiling some of the most outstanding health issues, including the COVID-19 pandemic, the creation of the State Public Health Agency, social inequalities, climate change and professional career from the epidemiologists themselves.
The year 2022, like the two previous years, has been strongly marked due to the impact of COVID-19 and also due to its consequences on other diseases and on the rest of the activities to which epidemiologists are dedicated.
It has also had serious consequences on the preventive programs and surveillance of notifiable diseases and other non-communicable diseases, since the saturation of the health system has slowed down the notification of this type of infection and pathology.
Also, some screening programs for the early detection of cancer were paralyzed or suspended. These delays in diagnosis lead experts to anticipate an increase in cancers in a more advanced stage and, therefore, a worsening of survival
Given the deficiencies that the Spanish health system has shown when dealing with an emergency like this, the creation of the State Public Health Agency is emerging as a crucial instrument. However, the SEE regrets the lack of information in this regard, since at the moment it is unknown where, how and when it will materialize. For this reason, the scientific society calls for an acceleration in its implementation and more data on its structure and on the regulation by which it will be governed, which is currently being prepared. Another crucial solution involves the improvement of the public health staff at the level of each Autonomous Community and at the central level.
Among the most positive aspects of the year, the SEE points out the informative advance of the provisional mortality data for the first semester of 2022 by the INE. And it is that, for the first time, the data for 2021 and an advance of the first six months of 2022 have been disseminated at the same time, with the desire that these semi-annual advances be made periodically. At the same time, the SEE claims that deaths by cause of deathare considereddata of health interest, as well as statistical data “, and supports the implementation of the electronic medical death certificate, which would allow these data to be available in real time.
It also highlights the launch, this year, of the Acute Respiratory Infection Surveillance System (SiVIRA) for joint surveillance of influenza, COVID-19 and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection, following the international recommendations of the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the World Health Organization.
Health Climate change: one of the greatest challenges for humanity
Another of the great concerns of epidemiologists during 2022 was climate change and its effects on health. Heat waves, droughts, sudden and abundant snowfalls, floods and, ultimately, extreme weather events will become more frequent and their consequences can be devastating. “They have a very negative impact on noncommunicable diseases such as cancer or diseases of the circulatory system. In turn, by altering the planet’s biodiversity, these extreme events favor the transmission of certain microorganisms that cause communicable diseases and entail the risk of re-emergence of mosquito-borne diseases or the appearance of new agents,” they warn.
Nor are the rise in sea level, pollution, ozone and fires innocuous, other phenomena that are putting the health of the population at risk. Faced with this “challenging and demanding scenario,” experts insist that public health services must be reorganized and strengthened with more funding and resources.
The SEE points out that climate change, which is one of the greatest challenges for humanity, will also increase the social inequalities, one of the main determinants of health. It also affects population movements and the impact this has on their health. According to experts, the decrease in biodiversity will bring with it a decrease in crop yields and even food security problems. As a consequence, malnutrition, diarrhea or malaria will increase in areas with fewer resources; all of this is exacerbated by inequalities in health. In addition, climate change coupled with the pandemic is exacerbating the vulnerability due to energy poverty.
Health More resources and recognition for their work
With regard to epidemiology, experts in this field recall that, although in the last two years this branch of science has gained special relevance due to COVID-19, those who are dedicated to epidemiology not only work, but also research in fields as disparate as cancer, addictions, social determinants of health, ethics, occupational health or human nutrition. And it is that, the training of epidemiologists is very wide and varied, since these professionals come from careers that go from medicine to psychology, passing through sociology or biostatistics, among other disciplines.
However, the visibility that epidemiologists have acquired in recent years has not been accompanied by an improvement in the conditions in which they work. In fact, they claim to be compared to other health professionals in Spain, which requires more human and technical resources and greater dignity and stability in their jobs, as well as greater recognition of their work.