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Collegial Exchange Precious

Italy and Serbia are today much better prepared when it comes to a possible second wave of the pandemic. While complex equipment is necessary, the most valuable element is the sharing of knowledge and collegial exchanges. This makes the visit of the Italian medical team to Serbia a precious sign of friendship between the two countries

An Italian health team consisting of five doctors and a nurse – Jacopo Pallavicini (surgeon and team leader, Turin), Agostino Roasio (anaesthesiologist, Asti), Andrea Mariano (infectious diseas sepcialist, Lazzaro Spallanzani Hospital, Rome), Andrea Roncarati (anaesthesiologist, Pordenone, Western Friuli), Vito Procacci (emergency medicine physician and head of emergency department, Bari Polyclinic), Alice Pollano (nurse, Turin) – came to Serbia for two weeks from 2nd to 16th August, at the initiative of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, in coordination with the Department of Civil Protection. The team operated thanks to an agreement between the Italian and Serbian governments.

During their mission, these Italian healthcare professionals were received by Serbian Health Minister Zlatibor Lončar and visited the Clinical Centre of Serbia, the Clinic for Infectious and Tropical Diseases in Belgrade, Zemun Hospital and the clinical centres of Bežhanijska Kosa, Niš, Novi Sad and Kragujevac. These meetings allowed them to exchange information and experience regarding the treatment of COVID-19 with local doctors and health staff, in order to better address the management of patients with the virus in these hospitals. We spoke with team leader Dr Jacopo Pallavicini about the mission to Serbia, as well as the current situation regarding the pandemic.

What condition is the Italian medical system in today, on the eve of autumn – when we expect a new wave of COVID-19 to hit? Do you feel more prepared; are you better equipped and more experienced?

– The Italian healthcare system is fully operational and, although the overall number of infections was very critical during spring, it has been able to respond adequately to the challenges and overcome the crisis successfully.

Italy was the first European country to be hit by the pandemic, in particular the northern part of our country. The sanitary structures, as well as all medical staff and the central government, in cooperation with regional governments, responded efficiently and exerted all possible efforts. Citizens themselves were subjected to very restrictive measures.

Through this first severe experience, especially in March and April, Italy gained much more preparedness with respect to the first time, and also thanks to great help and donations, as well as international decisions that intervened in the meantime. It is for this reason that I can certainly state that we are much better prepared and equipped than before.

Enormous work and effort has been undertaken to increase hospital capacities and capabilities across Italy, particularly in intensive care, to further prepare the health system for the possible emergence of a second wave.

Were your colleagues in the EU and elsewhere willing to share their knowledge and experiences? Is this type of cooperation equally evident today as it was at the onset of the crisis?

– We also had contacts with our colleagues within other EU countries and I can confirm that there is a general interest in sharing information among several sanitary systems.

Certainly, during the most severe moments of the crisis, we also received the help that we tried to provide to our Serbian colleagues during our mission to Belgrade.

Enormous work and effort has been undertaken to increase hospital capacities and capabilities across Italy, particularly in intensive care, to further prepare the health system for the possible emergence of a second wave of the pandemic

What was your motive for sharing knowledge with your colleagues in Serbia? In which areas were you able to contribute the most?

– The mission in Belgrade is part of the commitment that Italy has put in place in support of the Balkan region regarding the COVID-19 emergency since the start of the pandemic, witnessed lastly by the sending of a medical team to Albania also.

Tangibly, the goal of our visit was to exchange experiences and knowledge regarding the treatment of COVID-19 cases in several sanitary structures in Serbia. There is no treatment code for this disease, unfortunately, but there are different approaches and we have given some advice to our colleagues, given the experience that we had in Italy during the previous very difficult months.

Particular appreciation for the Italian experience included two points: the mechanical ventilation of patients in intensive care; and the technique of assessing the lungs of the most critical patients with ultrasound devices.

What are your impressions in relation to the equipment of the healthcare institutions in Serbia and the level of knowledge among domestic experts?

– We had the chance to see that European standards are applied in Serbia. Serbia has responded well to the epidemic and the local doctors have done an outstanding job. They are very well prepared and absolutely ready to fight the epidemic in the case that another major outbreak of the virus hits.

We have seen very well-organised hospitals, spoken with hospital directors who showed that they have very clear ideas about what actions to take. The protection of health workers in Serbia is at an extremely high level. Hospital personnel have the highest level of protective equipment and know how to use it. Organisation is very successful; they have managed to keep the positive cases separate from negative and undetected individuals, which are more problematic in this regard.

Do you continue to exchange experiences with your Serbian colleagues today?

– We are in contact with them and remain available for further deepening of information, if needed. We hope that a similar mission can also be implemented in the future by Serbian doctors and specialists in Italy. We have created a network of colleagues and friends and are still in touch with them, even if we are far away.