As I see the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, it forced me to do a review of assumptions, ideas, and knowledge on the state of the Consumer Health industry. The first thing that came to mind was the scares of the short-lived SARS in 2002 and H1N1 in 2009 pandemics buried in the archives of memory lane, now just to be uncovered as previous learnings for humanity.
In 2020 the field of Consumer Health is being suddenly reshaped by an urgency to develop new and fast approaches and solutions to keep people healthy. We thought we knew it all as industry leaders, yet COVID-19 made us literally fall from our chairs and realize that nature, after all, has the upper hand on humanity.
Remembering Pneumonia as one of top killers of humanity
One of the biggest killers of humanity had been Pneumonia for many centuries. Today it is making a loud come back in the 21st century as complication of COVID-19. By doing some quick research I found a very interesting perspective published 2012 in the 200th Edition of The New England Journal of Medicine titled “The Burden of Disease and the Changing Task of Medicine” that discusses how medicine should move away from communicable diseases to pay more attention to lifestyle diseases. Pneumonia had the largest share of death rates in 1900 followed by Tuberculosis, both comprising almost 50% of all deaths. Interestingly, both are respiratory diseases.
The shift of investment on the development of therapies to address chronic non-communicable diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, etc. away from infectious diseases has put an extraordinary and sudden burden for a quick medical and financial response to COVID-19 in 2020. We were not ready at all for an infectious disease to become as virulent and a truly global pandemic.
The good and controversial role of Over the Counter (OTC) medications during the COVID-19 pandemic
I will be controversial on this point. Some OTCs aimed to reduce a fever, treat pain, or other minor ailments such as cough are widely available for purchase without a recommendation from the healthcare professional or by prescription in many countries. There is no doubt that OTCs have contributed to the improvement of the health of consumers while reducing the cost of care and burden on health systems. Yet, I would ask how many minor asymptomatic cases of COVID-19 where treated with OTCs by individuals who never knew they were infected with COVID-19. This thought makes me think that many undiagnosed COVID-19 sufferers will never be accounted for until massive and effective antibody testing becomes mandatory.
On the positive side, OTC options such as fever reducers and cough suppressants provide relief to minor COVID-19 symptoms at the comfort of home under quarantine. Many pharmacies have extended the delivery of OTCs to make it more convenient to get access to medication without interrupting a quarantine. Makers of pain medication such as Johnson & Johnson are experiencing shortages due to high demand to treat pain and fever related to COVID-19. High prices of cough medicines are also being reported in the United Kingdom as example due to lowering supply.
Products and interventions deemed to extend human longevity may see growth plans derailed by virulent pathogens
In recent years human longevity had been a dominating topic within the field of consumer health. Products, diet interventions, and services aiming to extend longevity gained traction especially amongst techies, celebrities, and elites. After all, who does not want to invest in living longer, but healthier? In an ironic turn of events, a pandemic may negatively affect longevity prospects. Italy, one of the countries with the highest longevity in the world at 83.4 years has been one of the hardest hit countries with COVID-19 affecting the older adult population. To this point, while we know that COVID-19 does not boast a high mortality rate such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, or Alzheimer’s, it still adding additional numbers to all-cause of death rates in every country that will ultimately affect the curve of life expectancy. Therefore, the longevity curve may potentially see a decline, especially since mature adults seem to be affected the most. In a nutshell, the new disease is adding another 47,000 known deaths in the US as of April 22, 2020 that otherwise would not have happened. This figure will grow for the rest of the year. Not until then, we will be able to grasp the full impact on mortality rates from all causes and its impact on the longevity of the population.
Next in line, are we waiting for a contagious microbial disease to become the next global pandemic? Will we be prepared?
Last year I read about the threat of Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) to humanity. While many efforts have already taken place to minimize the use of antibiotics for minor conditions along their use in animal and soil management, microbes keep evolving to the point that the most advanced antimicrobials at the moment are losing effectiveness to combat some diseases. The World Health Organization (WHO) published a report in April 2019 stating that “drug-resistant diseases could cause 10 million deaths each year by 2050 and damage to the economy as catastrophic as the 2008-2009 global financial crisis. By 2030, antimicrobial resistance could force up to 24 million people into extreme poverty”.
Similarly, the Centers for Disease Control in the US published the 2019 AR Threats Report last November stating Antibiotic Resistance as major public health threat to the US. I invite you to read the report to learn about the list and severity of microbial strains that may affect our health and mortality rates. It is really concerning. Last resort antibiotics such as Colistin (Polymyxin) to treat severe cases of Salmonella have become less effective, thus putting more stress than ever to find effective antibiotics. Alternatively, some hope is being placed in the development of macrophages therapy.
I wish everyone health and let us brainstorm ideas about living with the consequences of a new transmissible disease to be applied as a great learning for the future and betterment of humanity. Let us make the best out of the Great Pause!