Dear friends and colleagues of the AUB community,
It is six weeks since we suspended in-person classes and undertook to raise public awareness about the arrival of COVID-19 in Lebanon. The
WHO declared a pandemic a month ago, prompting us to tighten measures throughout AUB and establish our
Pandemic Evaluation Clinic and Center (PECC). Last week we postponed our flagship annual event,
Commencement. Indeed, many extraordinary decisions have been taken, and extraordinary efforts expended, so our university can weather this silent global storm. Our objective is not only to survive, but ultimately to thrive in the even more challenging future that lies ahead of us in the post-COVID-19 era.
That was my message during two well-attended
virtual faculty town halls last week—one of hope that our talented and committed community stands equal to any challenge, while noting that it will be a hard ride requiring resilience and sacrifice. But with a focus on AUB's combined mission of education, research, and service, and by living our humanistic, liberal values, we are confident we can extend a more abundant life to the people of Lebanon, this region, and beyond.
Vita brevis, ars longa
Hippocrates's 2,400-year-old aphorism was perhaps best rendered in English by the poet Chaucer, “The life so short, the craft so long to learn." The fleeting opportunity described by the Father of Medicine has come for AUB's doctors, nurses, public health experts, engineers, psychologists, nutritionists and food security experts, mathematicians, social scientists, communicators, economists, and business researchers to bring their years of training and knowledge acquisition to bear against this greatest threat to global health of our lifetimes. Lacking the space to showcase all this university's work, let us highlight a portion to illustrate the range of initiatives.
Maroun Semaan Faculty of Engineering and Architecture has established a
COVID-19 FabLab (Fabrication Laboratory) to design, build, and validate personal protective equipment (PPE) and ventilators, in order to foster local production of vital products for the Lebanese health system. The FabLab has already prototyped the reusable “AUB N95 Mask" which will help protect medical staff from airborne viruses.
Faculty of Health Sciences, our scholars are focusing on ways to build community resilience and solidarity, adopting a community-based approach to prevent exposure, flatten the curve, and help society rebound as efficiently as possible after the end of this crisis. At center level, FHS's
Knowledge to Policy (K2P) has initiated a dedicated
Rapid Response Series to collect evidence-informed policy documents that aim to inform and provide insights for action to help shape the collective response needed to address COVID-19.
Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences, they are focused on primary resources security in Lebanon, where water, food, and energy were in a state of
fragility even before the pandemic. The
nutrition department is giving advice about how to stay healthy during the lockdown. FAFS's
Environment and Sustainable Development Unit has led by distributing
Mouneh Boxes with essential supplies for vulnerable rural families, and seedlings to smallholding farmers.
Our biologists and mathematicians are modeling the spread of the virus, while our
business school is looking at how to address loss of income and optimize the new working environment that the lockdown has created with its opportunities and pitfalls. And faculty members across the university have been working with their students to optimize the delivery of technologically-assisted teaching and assessment so everyone can stay safe at home and stop the chain of transmission through our community.
Facts to counter the infodemic
Seeking to redress the “infodemic" of misleading reports and social media memes around the pandemic, a team pooling the resources of the
Office of Communications, the
AUBMC Medical Committee, and
IT has launched the
COVID-19 Studio AUB-Annahar, a twice-weekly Facebook and YouTube webcast in Arabic providing analysis of the outbreak's progress in Lebanon and its socio-political ramifications. This is the brainchild of
Hussain A. Isma'eel, an associate professor of
medicine and a cardiovascular imaging expert and Simon Kachar, director of
news and media relations.
As the name suggests, the studio is the latest iteration of our continuing partnership with the Annahar news outlet, and our faculty members—seated two meters apart—have already delved compellingly into hospital readiness and efforts to combat the virus at community and municipal levels, among other topics.
Having established a makeshift—but professional-standard—audio-visual recording facility in the otherwise-idle Communications Conference Room in the Old Pharmacy Building, we are using the equipment to launch an English-language
Facebook platform for our global community under the banner of our existing
Beirut Briefings program. This will open a window onto the situation in Lebanon and the region, which has been sparsely covered by international media, through the eyes of our experts and researchers.
Office of Advancement has launched our
AUBMC Corona Response Fund, which will be used to purchase medical equipment, PPE and testing kits, as well as paying for patient care. This is on top of the patient and student solidarity funds started last October to help support needy students and patients through the economic crisis, which have raised more than $10 million from our generous donors, with an additional $1 million for testing and care for COVID-19 patients.
What lies ahead
Contrary to the cacophony of the current US administration, the first President George Bush (1989-93) was notable for his toned-down rhetoric. At his nomination acceptance speech, he hit an uncharacteristic high note by declaring “This is America… a brilliant diversity spread like stars, like a thousand points of light in a broad and peaceful sky." This is how I think of AUB, as evinced in the diversity of activities our community is undertaking to help our fellows, rather than sit back and let the pandemic take its course. But while we celebrate such civic engagement let us not deceive ourselves that we do not face difficult times ahead.
We have seen how this pandemic can overwhelm health systems even of rich nations. It will not only destroy lives but also livelihoods, with the IMF predicting a global recession dwarfing the 2008-09 crash and of a scale not seen since the Great Depression of the 1930s. I do not need to remind you that, here in Lebanon, we were already facing a disastrous economic downturn before our first COVID-19 cases were diagnosed in February; a perfect storm of crises in politics, banking, national debt, trade balance, corruption, and more.
In such times, people look to AUB to lead by example. We are a community founded on a sense of mission, one that creates world-class education and healthcare to lift society—the whole of society, not just its most privileged members—by making the crucial difference today and investing in a better future tomorrow. Without exception, AUB's most significant interventions in its 153-year history have come at times of greatest peril—such as our emergency medical care in the civil war, or providing relief during the 1915 famine. It is my belief we are now entering another such historic period. A time of peril and sacrifice, and the efforts that together we expend in this global health crisis and economic slump will be writ large in the future histories of AUB and Lebanon.
I would like to end, as I did during the town halls, drawing inspiration from another US president, Theodore Roosevelt, specifically his “Citizenship in a Republic" speech delivered at the Sorbonne on April 23, 1910. “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."
Today we are all in the arena. Teacher and pupil, woman and man, doctor, nurse, and patient, alumnus, supporter, citizen. The worthy cause is ours and we shall prevail. I know our faculty, staff, students, clinicians, alumni, and friends will make us prouder than ever of their valiant efforts to see this great university and the people who depend on it through these difficult times. Like all tests of character, we shall emerge from this one stronger, more collaborative and collegial, knowing that we have given our best when our faces are marred by dust and sweat and blood.
I would like to end by wishing you Happy Easter. Your campus misses you but we shall be reunited there before too long.
Fadlo R. Khuri, MD