Coffee with Heiman Wertheim

Professor Heiman FL Wertheim is medical microbiologist and head of the Radboudumc Center for Infectious Diseases and PI within the AMR theme of NCOH. Every day he works side by side with a multidisciplinary team in Radboud university medical center to deal proactively with the coronavirus crisis in his region.

At the end of February, before the first COVID-19 case was reported in the Netherlands I was on a skiing trip with my family in the French alps; luckily not northern Italy. In the ski chair lift (‘stoeltjeslift’) on the way up I would be regularly on the phone with our hospital to set up a crisis team to anticipate the consequences for our hospital once the coronavirus would turn up in the Netherlands. Together with Joost Hopman we are the chairs of the Infectious Disease Outbreak Team at Radboudumc. As chair it is a prime responsibility to prepare and adapt our hospital to the daily changing coronavirus landscape for the benefit of our patients and healthcare workers.

There is a very well supported crisis team structure with an overarching team (CBT) where all issues come together, and rapid decisions are made. The CBT reports directly to the hospital board. At the same time I am also head of the medical microbiology department, which includes the infection control team. We had several major things to take care of: scale up the infection control team, deal with diagnostic and PPE shortages, restructure the work flows and limit mixing of staff (we had two positive COVID-19 cases in our department). It is amazing to see how flexible, creative and focused everyone is. There is a very good harmony and I really experience this also as a very special and warm time. Great team building moment!

More coordination is welcome

The Province of Brabant, a COVID-19 hotspot due to the toxic mix of Italy holidays and Carnaval, is right at our doorstep and many of our healthcare workers live there. There is a lot of uncertainty among them regarding their safety. With the communication department we provide daily updates and regular webinars to inform staff and patients as good as we can. It is a daily struggle to make sure our stocks are sufficient to protect doctors and nurses. This is actually what worries me most. We have a wonderful purchasing group who every day scrambles to ensure we can keep working safely for at least several days. But we also mitigated the increased use of masks by specifying in more detail the indications and prolonged wearing of FFP masks. Like other hospitals we also have our innovation department which is looking into making our own masks. In the end all different grass roots initiatives should come together soon; then we can make some choices regarding quality and scalability. What I miss, however, is the effective communication between the different stakeholders in the Netherlands. Sometimes we are all running around figuring out the same thing at different places. More coordination is welcome. Not sure yet how, though, as it is quite complex. I am more than happy to contribute to set up a structure to improve this. We should not be afraid to invest in this as it will help us all. Sorting out costs etc. is something we can worry about after we have tackled this crisis.

In the series ‘In the front line’ the NOS publishes daily experiences of careworkers. Sunday 22 March this interview with Heiman Wertheim, doctor-microbiologist at Radboud UMC Nijmegen was published (Dutch).

Update from the NCOH Executive Board

Earlier this year we announced that the Top Sector Life Sciences & Health (LSH) saw possibility to allocate extra ‘Public-Private Partnership Allowance’ budget to NCOH. Therefore, the prolongation of the NCOH-LSH call for One Health projects on prophylactic vaccines and preventive strategies was published. Timelines were short; consortia could express their interest before 23 February, and the call closed on 18 March. We expect the results will be published end of May. In the October 2019 round of the NCOH-LSH One Health call, three projects fitting the NCOH PhD programme were awarded:

  • ACZI: Innovative antibody-based strategies to combat future emergence of zoonotic viral infections, participants: UU (coordinator), Erasmus MC, Harbour Antibodies
  • CANVAS: Conserved cell wall polysaccharides as novel vaccine targets, participants: UU (coordinator), AMC, MSD
  • DiSSeMINATE – Drivers of selection and spread of mobile genetic elements involved in antimicrobial resistance, participants: UMCU (coordinator), UU, RIVM, Cargill, Vion

The NCOH PhD programme was further expanded to include four PhD projects awarded by the Faculty of Science of the University Utrecht for participation in NCOH. LUMC contributed with additional five PhD projects on integrated One Health solutions, jointly with the University of Edinburgh, UK, and with PhD projects from the One Health European Joint Programme, the NCOH PhD programme currently totals over 62 PhD projects! All projects can be found on https://ncoh.nl/research/phd-research-programme/.

It was decided to postpone all current NCOH meetings. As soon as we have new dates for the NCOH Annual Scientific Meeting 2020, NCOH-AMR meeting, and the Young NCOH Day 2020 we will inform you. Stay healthy and well!

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