26 May 2020
When he was appointed Chief Science Advisor at the Ministry of Health in July 2019, former Board Chair Dr Ian Town could never have imagined what was to come.
“I started in a part-time capacity to focus on the implementation of the New Zealand Health Research Strategy. Covid came completely out of the blue – but it has been an incredible experience working full-time as part of the team of experts and senior officials providing scientific advice to the Government.”
His professional background couldn’t be more apt. Originally a respiratory physician, Ian has extensive research experience looking at causes of pneumonia, giving him the ideal foundation to understand how Covid-19 might affect the respiratory system.
After detailed analysis of what was happening overseas and “following the science”, he says the Government’s decision to “go hard and go early” was absolutely the right response to the crisis.
“We had the opportunity to contain the virus in New Zealand and eliminate it. Being able to close the border was critical to that decision and, in simple public health terms, has allowed us to protect our population.”
Ian believes a commitment to public health is at the heart of an effective health system, and New Zealand needs to strengthen its public health system to make sure “we are in a state of readiness and able to face future infectious disease threats.”
Although nearly eliminated in New Zealand, Covid-19 remains a significant and ongoing problem worldwide and we must continue to be vigilant, especially about the risk of imported ca
ses if border controls are relaxed.
“The wider global community is still very susceptible. We’ll be dealing with this for at least the rest of this year in a fairly intensive way – but, for as long as it takes, we’ll have an active and dynamic response.”