Dear friends and colleagues of the AUB community,
Tackling coronavirus and anxiety
The novel coronavirus COVID-19 comes from a family of viruses that include the common cold, and the vast majority of people infected will experience nothing worse than cold symptoms, if that. The concern is that older people, and people with heart or lung conditions, or diabetes, can become seriously ill or even die after being infected. It is also highly contagious, which accounts for the rapid spread from the original source of the outbreak in China. Like any virus, responsibility for containing COVID-19 rests with us individuals as much as with health authorities, and for this reason AUB has decided to take a lead in trying to raise public awareness. This will help protect the vulnerable and give biomedical researchers the time they need to understand the pathology of the virus and develop treatment.
Let me begin, therefore, by relaying the
World Health Organization's 10 basic rules to prevent the spread of the disease:
- Clean your hands regularly with alcohol-based hand rub, or soap and water.
- Disinfect surfaces regularly at home and in the workplace.
- Learn about COVID-19 symptoms (fever, dry cough, and shortness of breath)
- Avoid travel if you have a fever or cough.
- Do not cough or sneeze into your hand. Use your sleeve, or a tissue which you should quickly dispose of.
- People with higher risk (over 60 years or with pre-existing conditions) may wish to avoid crowded areas to limit exposure to people who are sick.
- If you feel unwell, call your doctor first rather than going to a health center.
- If you are sick, eat and sleep separately from family.
- If you develop shortness of breath, call your doctor immediately.
- It is normal to feel anxious if you live somewhere affected by COVID-19. Don't panic, but find out how to avoid infection and not infect others.
On the subject of mitigating anxiety, it is our view—informed by infectious diseases experts on our faculty as well as colleagues at the WHO and CDC—that closing schools and universities as ordered by the ministries of education and public health last week was unsupported by the data while the few confirmed COVID-19 cases in Lebanon could all be traced to a single identifiable source. If the virus is not already travelling through a population, there is no benefit in closing educational centers, especially if other hubs of activity remain open. Indeed the announcement increased the level of anxiety among many of our students and their parents.
During our meeting with the Lebanese minister of education yesterday we saw no new evidence to support the closure, but we did agree to abide by the decision for three reasons outlined in our subsequent memo: to be in full compliance with the government's decision, to provide further opportunities to educate the public and our own community about coronavirus, and to reassure students and parents who had expressed concerns about the safety of their children. But all agreed to work together to develop evidence-based measures to control the spread of coronavirus in line with the WHO's assessment that it is still at the containment stage in Lebanon.
So my appeal to all our community is to stay calm, keep informed, and follow the WHO advice. This outbreak will pass—let us in the meantime keep those most vulnerable safe rather than making hasty decisions not founded in science.
Abla Sibai scoops our second L'Oréal award
People say lightning never strikes twice in the same place, but it can when the lightning source is the L'Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Awards and its strike point our community of remarkable female academicians, including world leaders in their fields. Please join me in congratulating Dr. Abla Sibai for her 2020 FWIS award, a crowning achievement in her extraordinary career of teaching, research, practice, and advocacy, especially in the field of healthy aging in low- and middle-income countries. She follows another matchless AUB scientist, Dr. Najat Saliba, who was one of the 2019 laureates recognized for her pioneering work in identifying toxic air pollutants.
These annual awards recognize five scientists with a unique career path combining exceptional talent, commitment to their profession, and courage to excel where just a quarter of researchers are women and only 11 percent of incumbents of senior academic positions are women. No other institution before AUB has celebrated successive FWIS awards, marking this institution out as a beacon of women's leadership in scientific research, although we still have some way to go before we achieve the gender equity we seek.
How fitting that our second L'Oréal laureate is rooted in the Faculty of Health Sciences which boasts such abundant female talent, including three out of four departmental chairs, many stellar researchers, two out of three center directors, and the first woman academic dean in AUB history, Dr. Huda Zurayk. Indeed, it has been a remarkable period for this remarkable faculty whose Public Health Program was granted full accreditation this year—after two years of laborious work and without any interim reporting requirement—from the Council on Education for Public Health, the world's top accrediting agency.
Dr. Sibai's scientific story charts a remarkable journey fueled by AUB education. In 1977, Abla became one of the last graduates from our erstwhile School of Pharmacy, but found it impossible to stand and watch from behind her pharmacist's counter as Lebanon's conflict took its toll on the population, especially its vulnerable older members. So she enrolled for a master's degree in epidemiology at FHS and went to the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine for her PhD before coming back to join the faculty here. She has since built a global reputation in public health research and practice, reinforced by her extremely generous character and collegial approach.
Aware of the too-frequent gap between science and society, research and practice, especially in resource-scarce environments like Lebanon, Dr. Sibai excels in forging networks and on-the-ground impact and has spearheaded numerous groundbreaking initiatives, such as Lebanon's first nationwide study of the burden of non-communicable diseases, which brought much needed improvements to screening at primary care centers. She has sat on the advisory board of the WHO-Geneva Expert Advisory Panel on Ageing and Health since 2003 and was appointed to the board of HelpAge International in 2015. In 2008 she co-founded Lebanon's Center for Studies on Aging—and then, two years later, came her proudest achievement: founding our magnificent University for Seniors (UfS), a model for helping older people stay engaged socially and challenged intellectually, countering Shakespeare's portrayal of the last of the Seven Ages of Man—“second childishness and mere oblivion"—and reclaiming it as one of life's most valuable stages. As the UfS celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, FHS its top-notch CEPH accreditation, and AUB its second L'Oréal-UNESCO laureate, there is much to bring us joy in the daunting circumstances we live today.
Appeal of graduate education
In validation of the theme of last month's Graduate Studies Open House—Education Never Stops—we saw record levels of registration and attendance at this engaging annual event, where prospective master's and PhD applicants learn about the incredible opportunities at AUB to pursue advanced learning and receive generous funding along the way. We are encouraged at this time of rising economic anxiety in Lebanon that our future leaders continue to see education and research as their best means to lift their own prospects while also contributing to building a better country.
The open house is organized by our outstanding Graduate Council (GC) team and brings together faculty and staff partners from across campus in an effort matched only by Commencement for its wide-ranging participation. Under the leadership of Associate Provost Zaher Dawy, the GC works throughout the year to increase the reach and diversity of graduate programs, improve the graduate student experience, enhance personal development, and widen the opportunities for financial support.
Take for example the
GradEx professional development framework (its motto: Explore, Experience, Excel), in its second year of offering workshops and expert panels that complement graduate studies and research and with a view to career path development. A new GradEx Certificate Program has started this year in which students attending at least five of these sessions in one term receive a certificate to add to their portfolio of qualifications. Another welcome addition is the US-Middle East Partnership Initiative—Tomorrow's Leaders Graduate (MEPI-TLG) program, which allows us to recruit 63 fully-funded master's students over three years with the aim of advancing knowledge, nurturing leadership skills, and implementing initiatives with societal impact. This is on top of our Mastercard Foundation graduate scholarships, faculty specific awards, scholarship agreements with national bodies such as the Lebanese Association for Scientific Research and the Lebanese Armed Forces, and our own funding of PhD fellowships (full tuition waiver and monthly stipend) and master's students on Graduate Fellowship and Assistantship awards.
The deadline for fall 2020 applications is March 18. Please spread the word. AUB graduate education opens up new job opportunities for students and leads them towards more meaningful careers, as our global employability rankings bear witness. With the range of funding options making master's and PhD degrees more affordable at AUB and a growing suite of co-curricular activities available, we are very proud of this thriving sector, an essential component of any global university. What makes us unique is locating that educational quality and breadth in the heart of the MENA region—where we may face many challenges but where the research and innovation being generated can have direct impact in the local context around us, be it in health, agriculture, food, humanities, social sciences, business and entrepreneurship, engineering and design, natural and computational sciences, and nursing. Please visit the Graduate Council website for more information where you can also find the online application form, opening up a world of opportunity to lift the fortunes of individuals and society.
Fadlo R. Khuri, MD