The picture of Wimbledon stadium standing, honoring Sarah Gilbert, the Oxford University professor who co-designed one of the COVID-19 vaccines, is a symbol of this era. One of the few positive consequences of this year and a half of horrors has been the rehabilitation of science in the social imaginary. Researchers and their institutions have become the heroes of the moment and the architects of any way out of the viral labyrinth in which we are trapped. Today we know that there is no personal security or economic prosperity in the absence of a tenacious scientific endeavor, generously funded and led by the best talent.
Perhaps for these reasons, the award granted to the Spanish researcher Alberto García-Basteiro is of special value. Associate Professor of ISGlobal and physician-epidemiologist of the Hospital Clinic of Barcelona has been honored with this year’s Stephen Lawn Memorial Award. This award – initiative of three of the most prestigious scientific organizations in this field and announced at the annual industry conference, The Union– Awarded annually to researchers under the age of 40 for their work in the field of tuberculosis and HIV-AIDS in Africa.
The recognition also represents an endorsement of scientific cooperation between the South and the North. García-Basteiro has carried out a good part of his work in Mozambique, where he coordinates the Tuberculosis and HIV Research Unit of the Manhiça Health Research Center (CISM). His career has developed in parallel with that of this world reference center, which these days turns 25. The achievements of the CISM and the generations of African and Spanish scientists who have been trained in it represent one of the greatest prides in the history of Spanish Cooperation on the continent.
Today we know that there is no personal security or economic prosperity in the absence of a scientific effort
But this award, tuberculosis, and research centers like CISM are also a reminder of the long way we have to go. For the poorest countries on the planet, epidemics were routine long before the coronavirus arrived. Tuberculosis, malaria, Chagas, dengue, and so many other diseases of poverty have remained condemned to the corner of global scientific endeavors and international funding. For those who operate in these trenches, the sweet moment of scientific research could be a mirage that lasts as long as the problems of rich countries last.
“I am skeptical about the impact that [la covid-19] it is going to have other diseases, ”García-Basteiro pointed out in a conversation with this blog after the awarding of the award. “The pandemic has come and we have abandoned tuberculosis control strategies. The notification of cases has decreased between 20% and 30% in 2020. Everything points to an eight-year setback in mortality levels ”.
It’s hard not to share your frustration. The international response to the new coronavirus not only bypasses the poorest countries, but weakens efforts against the other diseases of their populations. But García-Basteiro, like all science professionals who work in this field, know that his is a long-distance career. They fulfill their responsibility. Ours is to transfer the excitement from the Wimbledon stands to the polls, the budgets and the public conversation. The tragedy of covid-19 would be twofold if we add to the suffering of this pandemic the inability to draw lessons from it.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.