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Blood and Beyond: Lessons From Pandemics Past and Present

December 11, 2022

Caught up in the fast pace of the ASH annual meeting, it is easy to get absorbed in the science and research dimensions of it all. Excited about all the new information, we can find ourselves focused on the trials and numbers, new drugs and data, and all the questions these studies bring up. In this exchange of ideas, one aspect we should not lose sight of is the interplay between science and humanities in everything we do. Highlighting the role of humanities in medicine at each annual meeting, the Blood and Beyond session is an opportunity to reflect on the intersection of hematology and global health, current events, and the human experience. Brought to us by the Blood editorial team, this session occurring on Sunday, December 11 (4:3p.m.-6:00 p.m., Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, Room 265-268) is a valuable opportunity to engage in new ideas and conversations.

Having featured prominent authors, journalists, and activists in previous years, Blood and Beyond always delivers new insights into a range of humanitarian topics. Last year’s annual meeting featured the world-renowned late Paul Farmer, MD, PhD, an icon of public health and co-founder of the international nonprofit Partners in Health. As a medical anthropologist and physician, he was celebrated for his immense impact on public health and human rights. From his experience in health care systems in Haiti and Rwanda, and later during the Ebola crisis, he brought forth an insightful discussion on improving public health systems globally through the context of clinical deserts. In a presentation and a discussion led by Blood editor-in-chief Nancy Berliner, MD, he covered a broad range of topics, from public health, safety nets, and pandemic preparedness. Dr. Farmer unfortunately passed away on February 21, 2022. It was truly an honor for last year’s attendees to experience a vibrant and powerful discussion, and as a tribute, his presentation “Irrigating the Clinical Desert: Clinical and Laboratory Services and Medical Emergencies” is provided complimentary through ASH On Demand. We recommend you take the opportunity to review and experience what this fantastic global health leader can teach us about public health systems today.

This year, the session will feature John M. Barry, a prominent journalist, historian, activist, and New York Times bestselling author, who will discuss the poignant topic of pandemics. Author of The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History, and distinguished scholar at the Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, he is a regularly featured writer in The New York Times and Washington Post, among other well-known publications. At this year’s Blood and Beyond session, he will discuss the history of pandemics in the last century, discussing the differences and similarities with COVID-19 and the lessons to be learned. From the 1918 influenza pandemic through the pandemics of 1957, 1968, and 2009 (not forgetting H5N1) these experiences have shaped our health care system and policy and can frame how we react to the COVID-19 pandemic. Mr. Barry will highlight the many ways in which previous pandemics have resembled that of COVID-19, such as the viral pathology, the ability of these viruses to infect other mammals, and long COVID and its equivalent in the wake of the 1918 pandemic. However, in the modern era of social media, technology, and political polarization, this pandemic has been completely different from those of the past. The political upheaval and economic turmoil are indeed unprecedented. Through the lens of history, Mr. Barry will provide new insights as we frame our experiences of the past three years and use these lessons for future health policy.

Each year, this session is a moving opportunity to reflect on the role of humanities in our research and practice. This year’s session is particularly poignant, with a topic that has profoundly impacted each one of us, and we look forward to a thoughtful and insightful discussion.

Dr. Vardell and Dr. Mohyuddin indicated no relevant conflicts of interest.


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