To suggest that the impact of the novel coronavirus has been nothing short of devastating – from a health perspective, to the economy, to basic social interaction – would be the most striking understatement of the decade. Daily media viewing over the course of the last two months has seen virtually nothing but bad news – sickness and death, trillion-dollar relief programs, millions out of work, businesses lost, growing tensions with China, and other depressing data. At some point, the nation will regain its footing, things will stabilize, Americans will pull together, and things will be well on the mend.
That said, life in the future should not go uninformed, and we need to seriously apply the wide breadth of lessons learned from our experience with the COVID-19 epidemic moving forward. Needless to say, at the top of these lessons is medical preparedness.
As the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Fortunately, national policy leaders have quickly recognized these needs and have already moved in some degree to ensure that we are considerably more prepared for major future medical and health crises. As an example, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), requires the strategic national stockpile maintained by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to be expanded to include a wide variety of medical supplies. More specifically, the law now requires the stockpile to include “personal protective equipment, ancillary medical supplies, and other applicable supplies required for the administration of drugs, vaccines and other biological products, medical devices, and diagnostic tests in the stockpile.”
This is critically important – in that, our nation will face any number of grave scenarios – from future pandemics to natural or even manmade disasters – that could require mass treatment methods for a wide spectrum of health and medical challenges. Ensuring that the strategic national stockpile is fully loaded with a supply of comprehensive medicines and health care equipment is vital – including antibiotics, first responder equipment, and trauma care applications for emergency medical and urgent care needs. Moreover, states should consider, or be encouraged, to follow a new national model of robust stockpiling as well.
Despite America’s resilience and strengths, we are not invincible or impervious to catastrophe. Our country is routinely hit with natural disasters – from violent storms, to wildfires, to earthquakes. Additionally, there will always be the threat of human-designed malice. In any of these cases, the trauma toll can be in thousands, and higher. The need to quickly and effectively respond to the urgent medical needs that result from any of these types of situations is paramount.
Here, wound care is a critical need in emergency scenarios with mass casualties – especially to stabilize wounds immediately, prevent infection, and assure recovery. In chaotic mass casualty situations where the risk of disease and infection from foreign material is a key concern, treating wounds quickly to prevent further mortality is a priority. Moreover, complicated wounds are harder to heal and often hindered by co-morbidities – compounding costs and delaying recovery. Situations resulting in widespread trauma only magnify these problems.
That said, America’s medical industry is dynamic, inventive, industrious, and responsive – and it can quickly produce cutting edge applications to address wounds and injuries sustained by disaster victims. Fortunately, innovative and cost-effective products currently exist in the health care market, which can quickly stabilize wounds and improve outcomes for those injured in mass casualty events. These products give first responders additional options for trauma treatment, from thermal and chemical burns to the most complicated flesh wounds. Additionally, topical wound care solutions with simple treatment protocols can improve healing outcomes; they do not require the same level of continued professional medical attention – a key advantage for first responders who may have to attend to hundreds of casualties at one time. Finally, they can also be used effectively in concert with telemedicine, allowing patients to self-treat with remote guidance from medical professionals. This again allows medical practitioners to provide wider treatment more cost-efficiently.
Rest assured, our nation will come away from COVID-19 more informed and better prepared for future health and safety challenges. As we seek to rebuild, we must take seriously the need to prepare for other national emergencies, such as those caused by disasters with mass casualties and widespread trauma. It is imperative that our strategic national stockpile be re-stocked with a wide and comprehensive inventory of medicines, solutions, and applications for a diverse array of critical disaster situations. Having significant amounts of the most effective wound care medicines in our national stockpile – ready for deployment to first responders, if needed – is the proverbial ounce of preparation that we might come to appreciate immensely.
David Barbara is a general surgeon and wound management specialist.
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