SFU professor leads research project on global coordination in response to COVID-19 pandemic

Dr. Kelley Lee is working with the World Health Organization to understand and analyze the measures taken by different countries

Photo courtesy of Simon Fraser University

Written by: Michelle Young, Staff Writer

SFU health sciences professor Dr. Kelley Lee and her team are looking at the measures taken by countries in response to COVID-19. Dr. Lee’s team, which is based in Vancouver, Hong Kong, Sydney, and Washington, D.C., was granted $500,000 in funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR). According to a media release from SFU’s University Communications, her team is working alongside the World Health Organization (WHO) and other public health organizations. 

Dr. Lee and her team will assess whether the current measures being taken are effective, compare data from past outbreaks, and determine how to improve current measures for COVID-19 and future pandemics.

“If you have a coordinated effort both within countries and then across countries, internationally, then the outbreak response is far more effective⁠—in fact, it’s critical,” Dr. Lee said in a phone interview with The Peak. 

She elaborated on why having a globally coordinated response is crucial to battling a pandemic. 

“You think about yourself [and you’re] following public health advice: you’re washing your hands, you’re keeping your distance, and so on. But your neighbour or your colleagues at work don’t do that, then you have a problem because then the outbreak’s gonna spread regardless of what you do [ . . . ] Internationally, if countries don’t follow the scientific evidence and your country does, you’re still at risk because it’s not a coordinated effort.”

One of the team’s key goals is to determine why countries are not following the WHO’s recommendations. 

While Canada has been both praised and critiqued for their response to COVID-19, Dr. Lee noted, “We’re not completely perfect, of course, [but] no country is going to get a grade A+, I think maybe Canada at the moment is at a B-.”

 The COVID-19 pandemic serves as an “incredible lesson in the interconnectedness of our lives [and] in our world,” Dr. Lee said, in discussing the importance of citizens doing their part by listening to public health officials. She added that while many have focused on the globalization of the economy, there hasn’t been enough investment into public health institutions and urges us to consider the institutions that “keep our lives on track.”

Dr. Lee noted that she hopes to contribute to the global effort in fighting COVID-19 and ensure that the response to a global pandemic can be improved next time.