Summer School in Antwerp to prepare for future pandemics: a UniCamillus student’s report

From 19 to 22 September, a summer school was held at the University of Antwerp on the subject of “Pandemic Preparedness”. Thanks to the mediation of Professor Wolf, a UniCamillus lecturer in General Pathology and external evaluator of the initiative, which is also supported by the University of Paris, two students from UniCamillus University had the opportunity to participate. The experience was instructive in many ways. Here is the report of one of them, Chiara Bellome.

“I eagerly seized the opportunity that was offered to me. The Summer School was held at the University of Antwerp in collaboration with the Antwerp University Hospital (UZA) and the Institute of Tropical Medicine (ITM). The course focused on preparing frontline health workers to deal with ‘virus X’ through the development and approval of a training programme using viral haemorrhagic fever as a case study. Initially designed for the Belgian health system, the course was later conceived as a model applicable to all European health systems.

It was four days full of content. On the first day, we looked at topics such as analysing awareness of the risk of a future pandemic, the different phases of its development and its lasting impact on society, such as the phenomenon of long covid. The second day was dedicated to the management of epidemics, including scenarios at hospital level, through training and simulations. The third day focused on the importance of vaccination, with an emphasis on building trust in vaccines and communication strategies to be adopted in society. Finally, on the last day, we visited the High Level Isolation Unit (HLIU) of the UZA hospital and received hands-on training in the behavioural protocol steps to be taken in the case of a suspected carrier of a highly contagious pathogen.
The experience was exciting, with intense discussion and fruitful collaboration with other students and healthcare professionals from across Europe, in a hospital setting that is at the forefront of both education and training.

There are many challenges in preparing for potential pandemics. Primary care providers such as general practitioners, emergency departments and ambulances, play a crucial role in managing new threats and are often the first to respond to emergencies. Missed or delayed diagnoses can trigger local outbreaks and facilitate their spread, so it is essential that they are properly trained to recognise high-risk situations and promptly alert the national health system for an effective and appropriate response.

The sudden emergence of threats such as COVID-19 and monkeypox in Europe demonstrates the variability of emergencies, and it is crucial to be prepared for the worst-case scenarios.

In 2018, the WHO introduced ‘virus X preparedness’, using viral haemorrhagic fever as an indicator, given its high mortality and risk of nosocomial infection. The course develops a programme for frontline healthcare providers to improve vigilance, recognition of infectious risks and response. It is the first of its kind, with the aim of creating a behavioural prototype for dealing with new pandemics, based on the validity of technology and its functionality, and validating its practical feasibility in a health emergency.”

Photo taken by UniCamillus student Chiara Bellome.