Given the international impact of COVID-19 IANAS proposed a video conference where the member academies could share their experiences relating to the pandemic and to exchange ideas and concerns. This was clearly well received as 55 people attended and hear national presentations by Victor Ramos (Argentina), Luiz Dadovich (Brazil), Darren Gilmour (Canada), Cecilia Hidalgo (Chile), Enrique Forero (Colombia), Henriette Raventós (Costa Rica), Angel Guevara Espinosa (Ecuador), Peggy Hamburg (in representation of IAP), José Luis Morán López (Mexico), Jorge Huete (Nicaragua), Martin Candanedo (Panama), José Segovia (Peru), Rafael Radi (Uruguay), Marcia McNutt (USA) Mireya Goldwasser (Venezuela) and Rubens Belfort (National Academy of Medicine – Brazil).
The videoconference started with a welcome from Jeremy McNeil (IANAS Co-Chair; Canada) and Helena Nader (IANAS Co-Chair; Brazil). Helena Nader shared the statistics of Covid19 cases and deaths by country, noting that on June 1st there were over 6 million cases of Covid19 globally. Helena encouraged the speakers to share what was going on in each of the countries and to discuss how each academy could help policy makers, and each other. After all the presentations there was an exchange of opinions and discussions about the topics presented and the tasks and challenges imposed by the worldwide Covid19 pandemic.
While it was clear that all Academies had engaged in addressing different issues relating to COVID-19, one noticeable point was the disparity in the relationship between the national academies and their respective levels of government. There are some countries where national governments were clearly relying on their Academies as a source of scientific advice when developing strategies to address the pandemic (e..g. Argentina, Costa Rica, Panamá Uruguay). At the other extreme there were countries, such as Brazil and Nicaragua, where federal and regional governments denied the seriousness of the pandemic and thus were not interested in hearing from academicians. Venezuela’s situation was one of the most striking, as the scientific community received threats after reporting the possible scenarios for the pandemic in that country based on the level of intervention undertaken.
However, it was clear that at the national level all academies have been doing everything within their means to transmit reliable information about the virus to the public. These approaches included Webinars, Youtube Videos, Podcasts and interviews with the media.
Most speakers underlined the importance of global cooperation and coordination given that this is a global pandemic. For example, the InterAcademy Partnership (IAP) has established a working group on Covid19 providing a valuable resource for policy makers, the media and other public entities seeking the best available science and evidence. Furthermore, it is was agreed that the global scientific community must work together, sharing information on issues such as the general availability of fast and reliable methods of testing, as more accurate information on the levels of infection would allow for more effective action by decision makers. It was agreed that the IANAS academies should made a concerted effort to share information regarding Covid19 pandemic, and as a first step the powerpoint presentations, and other materials on Covid19 provided by each of the speakers, have been uploaded to IANAS’s website.
Other important issues discussed related to the question of inequity within the context of COVID 19, something that was common to all countries. The poor were markedly impacted by the pandemic due to food insecurity, the lack of suitable housing with adequate sanitary conditions and where social distancing is hardly possible. Furthermore, the transition from face-to face to virtual education as a result of the pandemic resulted significant proportion of the population being unable to continue with their education as they did not have access to the necessary technology. It was suggested that this problem could be one that IANAS’s Science Education program look into.
The Covid19 videoconference, as with previous joint activities such as the project on food security and sustainable agriculture, underlined the willingness of the IANAS academies to engage and to work together to address problems of regional/global importance.