Skip to main content


A year with COVID-19: Looking for the silver linings

A year with COVID-19: Looking for the silver linings

This article originally appeared on LinkedIn on April 29 2021

Today marks the 17th International Day of Immunology (IDOI). This awareness campaign began in 2005, when I was about halfway through my PhD in Immunology.

Like many of my colleagues, I began my career in the laboratory, studying the intricacies of the immune system and those small defects that can have the largest impact on people’s lives. My move about ten years ago to Janssen, a pioneer and innovator in this field, was therefore a natural progression for my career.

The IDOI 2021 theme: The “C”-word

It goes without saying that COVID-19 has dominated all aspects of our lives and is therefore a fitting theme for this important day. I have seen first-hand the devastating impact of the pandemic on people living with immune-mediated inflammatory diseases (IMIDs) and the multitude of new challenges facing the healthcare professionals who care for them in South Africa and all over the world.

This is the second IDOI that is being marked during the pandemic and rather than focus on all the challenges of the past 12 months, today I want to focus on what I consider to be some of the positive benefits I have observed.  

The silver linings

1.   Health takes centre stage

It is clear that COVID-19 has had a huge impact on public awareness and interest in health and well-being, but has also raised awareness of immunology and the importance of the immune system. In South Africa, we are seeing prime-time TV slots dominated by science and health topics, and this is the first time I saw that! As a company we have always advocated for patients to be more engaged with the management of their care, and in my opinion this starts with the general public becoming more aware of the importance of health and the role of the immune system.

2.   The benefits of the virtual world

We have seen an unprecedented level of cooperation between immunology patient advocacy groups, healthcare providers and the pharmaceutical industry in response to the events of the last year. In particular, all parties worked together to ensure patients remained visible and the rise of virtual appointments was a particular success in South Africa – so much so that many patients being used of these to the traditional face-to-face consultations. Beyond the pandemic, there could be additional benefits to virtual appointments, particularly for hard to access communities, which could see an overall improvement in connection for better health. 

3.   Greater accessibility to the latest science

The virtual revolution has not only benefited patients. In the last year, a by-product of remote working has been increased accessibility of congresses and symposia. As a result, the latest science is being seen and discussed by a wider audience. This is particularly important for individuals based in Africa, who have historically had fewer opportunities to attend the larger international meetings. My hope is that this is the first step to helping establish Africa as a future centre of expertise in the world of immunology, which can drive the innovations of tomorrow!

Light at the end of the tunnel

I feel we have entered a new phase of the pandemic and truly believe the end is in sight. While it might be too early to predict the legacy of the pandemic on IMID patients and those who manage them, I hope that the silver linings I have outlined in this article can be built on in the future and will not be lost.

However you chose to mark IDOI, stay safe.