Anne Lévy, how would you sum things up after almost one year in office?
I took office as Director in October 2020, right in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. This volatile and highly dynamic situation has been, and continues to be, very challenging for my people and myself. Our days are long and busy, and the epidemic situation is constantly changing. When I started, many staff had been working to manage the crisis for months already without a break or weekends off. In autumn last year it became foreseeable that the pandemic would last even longer. This prompted us to create more sustainable organisational structures and reinforce the management of the crisis organisation. In the course of this, the workload was better distributed and processes were optimised. In terms of digitalisation we were also able to lay a basis for the future with projects such as the COVID-19 dashboard and the COVID certificate. Naturally, like everyone else, we would like to see a return to normal working routine. After all, the FOPH works in many more areas of public health than just pandemic management.
What’s the importance of the StAR strategy for you and the FOPH? Where do you stand on it?
As a proponent of the One Health approach I would say that the StAR strategy has great significance for me and the FOPH. It’s a first successful step in terms of interdisciplinary prevention in Switzerland. Since 2016 we’ve taken the lead in implementing the cross-divisional strategy in close cooperation with the Federal Food Safety and Veterinary (FSVO), Agriculture (FOAG), and Environment (FOEN) Offices, as well as with the Swiss Conference of the Cantonal Ministers of Public Health (GDK) and many other agents. If we want to prevent the emergence of new antibiotic resistances and limit their transmission and spread, interdisciplinary exchange, common goals, close cooperation across units and the use of synergies are necessary. Good examples of how this is already happening in practice are the information campaign on the StAR strategy and the autumn 2019 campaign to return unused antibiotics. The latter was led by the federal government together with the pharmaSuisse association of pharmacists, the Swiss Medical Association (the FMH), the Swiss Dental Association (the SSO) and the Swiss Veterinary Society (GST/SVS).
How has COVID-19 impacted your work?
From my very first day at the FOPH the pandemic has been the biggest concern. Even so, we’re of course also working on other topics, for example the ongoing implementation of the Health 2030 healthcare policy initiative and current policy matters such as the cost control packages and the tobacco products legislation.
Despite the great suffering the pandemic brings us all, it is also having an accelerating effect on certain issues. Our experience in crisis management is that progress can be made very quickly. I definitely want to retain this momentum. We’re working at full speed on digitalisation, and we also want to strengthen prevention. The pandemic has shown how important and effective preventive measures such as hygiene rules, distancing, mask-wearing and vaccinations are. It’s also highlighted the importance of the One Health approach, as Sars-CoV-2 is zoonotic – a disease that can be transmitted between animals and humans – which is currently at least believed to be the case for Sars-CoV-2.
Taking up office during the pandemic demonstrated to me impressively the motivation of the people at the FOPH and the high quality of the work they do, even under high pressure. In addition to this, cooperation with other administrative units, the cantons and agents in the private sector has been uncomplicated and extremely fruitful. If we can maintain this approach I’m convinced that we’ll be able to successfully master future challenges in health.
To what extent could COVID-19 be an opportunity in the war on antibiotic resistance?
The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrates the drastic consequences that zoonoses – diseases transmissible between animals and humans – can have in all areas of life around the globe. Another conclusion from our experience with the COVID-19 crisis is that health must be considered in a holistic context and, in particular, must be promoted to adequately counter dangerous forms of zoonoses in the future and reduce the risk of such diseases. The StAR strategy is well positioned in this respect. It could also generally benefit from the increased social sensitivity to health issues in terms of informing the public and the will to make appropriate political decisions.