Features

The pandemic has forced us to embrace technology: Prof. Raina MacIntyre 

 

By Mahika Panditha 

Prof. Raina MacIntyre (MBBS Hons 1, FRACP, FAFPHM, M App Epid, PhD) is one of the world’s leading experts in emerging infectious diseases, vaccinology, and biosecurity. She was born in Colombo, Sri Lanka and later moved to Australia where she is now the Head of the Biosecurity Research Programme at Kirby Institute of the University of New South Wales (UNSW). 

She is also a National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Principal Research Fellow. Her research is categorised into four different areas: personal protective equipment, vaccinology, epidemic response, and emerging infectious diseases. 

Prof. MacIntyre also initially conceived the five-part bioterrorism drama “Pandemic”, that many of us have watched, as a web series to be used as a teaching aid. It focuses on the dangers of a threat where an insider of an organisation is sharing secrets or doing unauthorised research. She used it for her online course on Bioterrorism and Health Intelligence.

The course is part of a partnership between three of the world’s top and leading universities – UNSW, King’s College London (KCL), and Arizona State University (ASU). She has won several career awards, some of which include the Sir Henry Wellcome Medal and Prize (from the Association of Military Surgeons of the US, 2007), the Peter Baume Public Health Impact Prize (2014), the Frank Fenner Award for Advanced Research in Infectious Diseases (2003), and more. Prof. MacIntyre is also the leader of a large programme which conducts vaccination clinical research – this includes studies in frail elderly vaccinology. 

We had the chance to have a small chat with Prof. MacIntyre about the prevailing global Covid-10 pandemic that has taken the world by storm, and here is what she had to say. 


Q: How was the transition into quarantine for you and your family in Australia? Tell us about that whole process.

 It was fairly straightforward. I knew by early March that social distancing and a lockdown was likely, so started planning ahead, buying supplies and food that could be stored for a long period of time. It wasn’t a big adjustment for my parents, because they rarely go out anyway. My children probably found it the most difficult, as they missed going to campus for university, and meeting their friends. My daughter actually organised us all and decided she would be the designated shopper, as she is young and doesn’t have any risk factors; my son has asthma and everyone else is over 50 in the household. Fortunately, she only went shopping once, about four weeks into lockdown, wearing a mask and gloves. After that, I realised I could order groceries to be delivered home.


Q: 
How has Australia been handling the Covid-19 pandemic?

Very well. Australia has achieved low disease incidence with strong border control and extensive testing. We are fortunate, and need to remain vigilant as society re-opens.


Q:
What do you think the future of the world looks like, considering it’ll take about a year to a year and a half for a vaccine to be available? 

I think we will adapt, and change the way we do things in the process. Businesses may become more flexible with working from home options, and we may use technology more for our work and social lives. Travel may be impacted even beyond the pandemic, as businesses may rely more on virtual meetings and cut down on business travel. The pandemic has forced us to embrace technology that we have avoided in the past. The economic impacts may be seen for a few years yet.


Q:
What is your opinion on how Sri Lanka is handling the pandemic? 

Sri Lanka is handling it well, with low case numbers. However, testing needs to be widespread to ensure all cases are detected.


Q:
 
In your opinion, what do you think people should be doing to avoid contracting the virus/spreading the virus? 

Maintain physical distancing, use face masks, and be meticulous about personal and household hygiene, especially handwashing. Avoid crowded places if possible. Travel is also a high-risk activity – airports, planes, all may pose a risk, with people from all over the world mingling in close proximity.