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Zhao Chunshan: Combating COVID-19 Through Policy Research

JUL . 09 2020
Peking University, July 9, 2020: Editor's Note: Across the world, the school life and career paths of many students have been shaped by the unexpected outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic. Here at Peking University, we found some young people who, instead of being passively restricted, took advantages of their education and stood out bravely against this global enemy.

Zhao Chunshan speaking at the Banquet of the Global Health Forum of Boao Forum for Asia

Zhao Chunshan is a graduate student at Peking University School of Public Health and has been working tirelessly in helping China combat Covid-19 since the beginning of the outbreak. In the face of adversity, global solidarity is the key to overcoming obstacles that affect us, as no man is an island.

In the Chinese folktale, people celebrate the Spring Festival at the beginning of each year to commemorate the successful conquest of the fierce monster "Nián." However, at the beginning of 2020, an invisible monster appeared. It silently threatened the health and well-being of all humankind, taking away hundreds of thousands of lives and incalculable losses – it is the monster known as the Covid-19 pandemic. During the Spring Festival, instead of going back to their families, citizens in China devoted themselves to playing their part in fighting against the coronavirus.

Zhao Chunshan, a M.S. graduate student at the Department of Global Health, Peking University School of Public Health, is one of them. Soon after the National Health Commission of the People's Republic of China informed the WHO China Office of cases of pneumonia with unknown causes which were detected in Wuhan City in Hubei Province on January 31, 2019, the Central Government launched the Joint Prevention and Control Mechanism of the State Council to improve inter-agency preparation and coordination in response to the rapidly changing situation. In early February, Chunshan was seconded to the National Health Commission to assist with international cooperation and communication under the Mechanism.

A global health enthusiast

Chunshan majored in Public Health and Preventive Medicine when he was an undergraduate at Peking University School of Public Health. "Thanks to the liberal and diversified educational environment at Peking University, I was able to explore my academic interest through various research and practices with the support from our faculty members". As a medical student, Chunshan pays special attention to the social and political determinants of health that can sometimes be much more complex than pathology. "We live in a world that has never been more globalized and interdependent. Health issues can be profoundly connected with social, cultural and political factors. The COVID-19 Pandemic is the perfect demonstration."

To profoundly understand the concepts and practices of global health, Chunshan engaged with the WHO China Office on several events as a student coordinator and served as the President of a national association of Chinese medical students, which is a member organization of the International Federation of Medical Students' Associations (IFMSA). He was invited to travel across different continents to attend international assemblies and conferences as a youth representative. Even before he received his M.B.B.S. degree, Chunshan started seeing himself as a global health enthusiast and was determined to dive into the world of global health.


Zhao Chunshan with colleagues at the United Nations CPD52 Conference

Assisting decision-making through policy research

On January 30, 2020 in Geneva, Director-General of the World Health Organization Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus announced the COVID-19 outbreak as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). This is the first time ever that China becomes the epicenter of a PHEIC, which brings a huge workload for the international cooperation and communication workforce under the Mechanism.

Shortly after PHIEC was announced, countries around the world started to take actions in response to the potential spread of the outbreak. The main tasks of Chunshan and colleagues in the department were to thoroughly study the related international laws and conventions such as the International Health Regulations (2005), which are the fundamental rules of practice for scenarios like this, and to track the actions taken by the WHO and all the other member states. Then they provided policy recommendations for the high-level leaders based on the research and analysis. "As I mentioned earlier, the world is interdependent, especially in the epidemic or pandemic of an unknown infectious disease. Countries, no matter big or small, have to be looking after each other. Otherwise, the only winner in this battle will be the virus. So it is crucial to know the necessity and the rules of cooperation in addition to the situation of other countries. In this way we can react accordingly, either actively providing information or trying to form an alliance." Chunshan added.


Conferences and discussions were hosted every day in the National Health Commission

Other than that, Chunshan also assisted in coordinating external meetings with other countries and multilateral organizations and networks. "The whole world was thirsty for firsthand information from China." Rumor and misinformation were all over the Internet at the time, as referred to by Dr Tedros, the "Infodemic". Authentic information about the epidemiological characteristics and clinical strategies of the disease was the primary concern of those countries with few cases but were facing the risk of imported cases from China. During Chunshan's secondment, multi-stakeholder teleconferences were hosted every two or three days. Government officials and top experts kept sharing what was known and unknown about the disease with international partners.

A future envisioned

"'Health is global, global health is local' – I read this several years ago, and it has never made so as much sense to me until this secondment", said Chunshan. "For China, containing the virus, sharing domestic experience and strategies, forming collaborations and fostering cooperation are the keys to solving this global threat." But that is easier said than done, as challenges remain, such as flawed global health laws, the compromised global health governance system, international politics that constantly get in the way of health governance… "This secondment has not only deepened my understanding of global health governance and policy, but has also provided me with a brand-new perspective for looking at the dynamics between power and politics, and how they interact with the path of improving health and well-being".

Most conferences were hosted online during the epidemic

Combating COVID-19 in the central government is undoubtedly a memorable and meaningful experience for Chunshan. As he will be graduating in a year's time, he is becoming more committed to transforming his passion into action. "Although we are witnessing a potential shift of global order, I still think that global solidarity is the future for mankind—bridging cooperation, translating local experience, and providing solutions for global governance. I do believe that this is the mission of our generation."

Source: Zhao Chunshan
Editor: Trevor, Pu Hairui
Producer: Amanda Hu
Photo: Zhao Chunshan
Designer: Pu Hairui