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Website helps doctors cope with torrent of covid-19 info

The desk of a student working on the COVID-19 EC platform. (Photo provided by Sofia Chicaiza.)

Quito, ECUADOR – Medical professionals trying to treat patients with covid-19 while coping with an onslaught of constantly changing information about the disease are getting some relief in Ecuador.

Since the outbreak of covid-19, most people – doctors included – have tried to stay on top of all the news about the virus. Much of the information we have comes from social media, Whatsapp chats, or are just fast-spreading rumors.

It’s not hard to tell that lots of these facts are point-blank wrong and some of them have caused serious damage.  After the announcement that hydroxychloroquine might help combat the virus, many people in Ecuador started taking it. But this drug was not proven to be effective and in many cases, caused more harm than good. Some patients even died due to the drug.

To combat misinformation about the virus, a group of medical students and doctors at the Universidad Internacional del Ecuador (UIDE) created a platform for healthcare professionals to make information about covid-19 accessible.

Dr. José Eduardo León

The platform, called COVID-19 EC, aims to help doctors who work about 12 hours a day and don’t have time to read all of the new articles and studies being published about covid-19.

Dr. José Eduardo León, a medical doctor who is the chief editor of the platform, said there are about 28,000 medical articles that cover any topic relating to covid-19 and it’s not stopping.

“Every day, about 200 to 600 articles are published,” he said.

The medical students, interns and doctors working on this project read all of these articles, fact check, and summarize them.

This is a huge help for any doctor who does not have the time to read all of the articles but needs to stay on top of the newest findings, according to León.

León and two other physicians, Dr. Ramiro Cadena and Dr. Christian Molina and two medical interns, Gabriela Restrepo Rodas and Rafel Mancero Montalvo, created the platform.

“My job as chief editor is to check the summaries and rate them before sending them to the medical specialist,” León said.

When asked why medical students work on this project when research is usually done by professional doctors, León said his team believes every medical student has chosen this career to be able to help people.

“What better way to do that than to be exposed to the current situation?” he asked.

According to León, many people believe a doctor has to be very old to be knowledgeable.

But his team believes any student is as capable to do the work they are doing, which is to read, understand, and summarize medical articles.

The COVID-19 EC logo. (Graphic courtesy of Dr. José Eduardo León.)

Medical students are even more capable of doing this job, according to León, because they have not yet specialized in any field and have a general knowledge about every part of medicine. That is why it is easier for them, than say, a doctor who specializes on neurology, to read articles covering various topics and to understand them, he said.

León thinks the coronavirus pandemic is going to be around for a long time to come.

“Many people have misunderstood the concept of flattening the curve,” he said. “Flattening the curve simply means to lower the number of sick people so that the health system doesn’t explode. It does not mean the virus will be eradicated.

“This leaves us with two options, either 60 percent of Ecuador’s population has to be infected to reach mass immunity, though it is not proven yet that immunity is reached after an infection, or we have to wait for a vaccine.”

When the pandemic does finally end, the team plans on using their new platform to make information about other health issues available, such as dengue fever or STDs.

Additionally, the platform should reach a point where it might help not just Ecuadorian doctors but any doctors in the Spanish speaking world, according to León.  Some of the information for non-medical people is beginning to circulate on COVID-19 EC’s social media.

On their webpage, León says, there is a section titled Mythbusters. Its goal is to clear up any false information going around about the treatment of the virus. Some of those debunked myths include, “The virus does not spread in warm countries” or “Orange juice helps combat the virus.”

The platform’s future goal is to make a larger impact on the non-medical community.

Many times, articles are misinterpreted by people who don’t have deep medical knowledge, according to León, who firmly believes that people should know what is going on.

“Information is power and that is what the people of Ecuador lack right now,” he said.

Aileen Cevallos is a Reporter with Youth Journalism International.

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