Denise Naniche: “COVID-19 Illustrates the High Level of Interdependence that Connects People All Over the World”

Denise Naniche: “COVID-19 Illustrates the High Level of Interdependence that Connects People All Over the World”

23.4.2020

We talk with Denise Naniche, coordinator of "Development and Application of Vaccines in Global Health" course. She was born in Paris but has lived in Barcelona for the last 15 years. She became Scientific Director of ISGlobal a few months ago, although her relationship with the Institute dates back much further than that: since 2004, her work has been focused on finding ways to improve access to HIV/AIDS diagnosis, treatment and control in sub-Saharan Africa, especially Mozambique.

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

When I was very young, I wanted to be a detective. Later, I wanted to be a doctor in countries with widespread poverty and little clout on the international stage. I ended up becoming a global health researcher, which is a combination of the two.

What aspects of your life have changed the most since lockdown began?

Physical activity and human contact. I’m a very active person, so I miss physical exercise and being with people. I am able to work much more intensely under lockdown, but the third dimension is missing on the computer screen.

I miss running into people in the hallway and laughing over coffee or tea. Of course, we are learning that some meetings and lectures can be done very efficiently via online applications. It’s making us rethink a lot of our air travel.

To let off steam, I go up to the roof of my building, which overlooks my neighbourhood. I put on my headphones and dance like crazy, strutting around like Freddie Mercury.

What do you believe?

I believe that, if there is no solution, then there is no problem. This helps me stop worrying, concentrate on the positive side, and see the good in any situation. 

This pandemic is forcing us to learn and to work against the clock. What are the greatest challenges you are seeing?

Everyone’s situation is different so the challenges vary depending on each person’s family situation and the type of work they do. Some people are working less because they cannot go into the lab. Because of the emergency situation, others are constantly putting out fires and are being forced to deal with things in a more superficial way than they would like.

We are facing several challenges: maintaining group cohesion, adjusting the rhythm of our work to the situations our colleagues find themselves in, learning to navigate uncertainty, and making decisions with the information we have, knowing that it can change from one day to the next.

Finding solutions in this pandemic demands a huge amount of intervention and research. How do you think that will influence the content, skills and competencies taught in global health training programmes?

I think it will have an impact on all the disciplines and training programmes in the field of global health. The pandemic has clinical, social, economic and ethical consequences. The speed of the viral spread has led to the urgent mobilisation of aid and research. We seem to be setting aside competition and pooling our efforts, making data accessible to everyone and establishing protocols to speed up the response to COVID-19. 

The speed of the viral spread has led to the urgent mobilisation of aid and research. We seem to be setting aside competition and pooling our efforts, making data accessible to everyone and establishing protocols to speed up the response to COVID-19

I think this pandemic will substantially change our relationship to training. We are coming to understand that we can do almost everything virtually, but that we miss the in-person contact. We will become more flexible in how we offer training. We will have to differentiate between scenarios in which being physically present clearly adds value and others in which teaching objectives can actually be achieved through virtual interactions.

What would you say today to people who want study global health?

The COVID-19 pandemic illustrates the high level of interdependence that connects people all over the world and shows us that health is truly global. We are only as strong as the weakest link in the chain.

As the coordinator of Development and Application of Vaccines in Global Health course, can you tell us about any new content you’ll be introducing this year?

We will cover the concepts needed to understand the application of vaccines in global health, but we will also be discussing pandemic preparedness, vaccine development in emergency situations, and the impact of pandemics on existing immunisation programmes.

Related content

Short Course: "Development and Application of Vaccines in Global Health". 20-29 May