The international webinar “COVID-19: Biomedical, Social and Legal Aspects” was organized by UNICA, a European university network, in the framework of which Semmelweis University in cooperation with Eötvös Loránd University held several lectures. The purpose of the online conference was to gain feedback about COVID-19 from the participating experts with a multi-professional approach. The conference started with the keynote speech of Dr. Béla Merkely.

The webinar was opened by Dr. Luciano Saso, President of UNICA, who emphasized that UNICA does its best to react to current challenges in the most effective way by taking advantage of the opportunities provided by digital technologies in order to hold online conferences and seminars. Dr. Saso was particularly pleased about the fact that two UNICA member institutions of the same European city organized this event in cooperation with one another.

In his opening speech Dr. László Borhy, Rector of Eötvös Loránd University, pointed out the unusual challenges in higher education caused by COVID-19 and highlighted the effectiveness of forums such as UNICA in the exchange of experiences.

Dr. Béla Merkely, Rector of Semmelweis University expressed his gratitude to UNICA for its outstanding activities that contribute to the reinforcement of Hungarian higher education as well as to international visibility. He emphasized the timeliness of this webinar, in which the lecturers introduce COVID-19 and the answers provided to the challenges caused by this disease in a multi-professional approach. Dr. Merkely highlighted that Semmelweis University has been able to show an example of organizing a high quality online education and high quality health care since the onset of the epidemic and our institution has been playing a leading role in the development of the national defensive strategies.

In his keynote speech, Dr. Béla Merkely introduced the results of H-UNCOVER, a representative cross-sectional nationwide coronavirus screening survey led by Semmelweis University and carried out with the participation of the four medical universities of Hungary. The survey was organized by the Central Bureau of Statistics and was supported by The Ministry of Innovation and Technology. Dr. Merkely highlighted the ‘sentinel’ roles of the four Hungarian medical universities in the national health screening program, and besides the detailed analysis of H-UNCOVER, he also pointed out the most common characteristic features of coronavirus, the comparison between the first and second waves of the epidemic in Hungary, as well as the statistics regarding the neighboring countries.

Afterwards, the conference was followed by two sections, each 90 minutes of length. The two moderators of the event were Dr. Attila Szabó, Vice-Rector for Clinical Affairs, Semmelweis University and Dr. Éva Orosz, Head of the Doctoral Programme in Social Policy, Doctoral School of Sociology, Faculty of Social Sciences, Eötvös Loránd University.  In the first section the lectures targeted the biomedical aspects, while in the second section the lectures were built around the social and legal aspects of the epidemic.

In the first section, on behalf of Semmelweis University, Dr. Veronika Müller, Director of the Department of Pulmonology held a lecture entitled “Clinical Management of COVID-19 Patients at Semmelweis University”. The further lecturers of the section were Dr. Joan Soriano, Director of the Department of Pulmonology, Hospital Universitario de La Princesa, and Dr. Alice Street, senior lecturer at the University of Edinburgh. Regarding H-UNCOVER, Dr. Soriano indicated that their institution would be willing to cooperate with Semmelweis University, in the framework of which comparative examinations could be carried out about analyzing the effects of the epidemic. In his response, Dr. Attila Szabó pointed out that Semmelweis University is open to a possible cooperation, especially because H-UNCOVER is definitely planned to be continued in the near future. In the second section of the webinar, several professionals held lectures on behalf of Eötvös Loránd University, Humboldt University (Berlin) as well as Ankara University. Approximately 80 participants were present in the event.

Semmelweis University joined UNICA on January 1, 2020. The Brussels-based university network was founded in 1990 with the aim of facilitating the cooperation and joint application activities of universities from the capitals of Europe along various priorities, such as internationalization and mobility, R&D&I, doctoral training, educational development, university management and development strategies, social implication and responsibility. Currently, 53 universities from 37 European capitals are members of the network, Hungary is represented by Semmelweis University and Eötvös Loránd University. Every year, UNICA organizes several thematic conferences at member universities on various topics with the participation of eight working groups, each specializing in one field (education, research, doctoral training, international, PR and communication, environmental sustainability, the social role of universities). This year, in view of the current international epidemiological situation, several webinars were organized by UNICA on various topics with the participation of member universities.

Diána Módos (Directorate of International Relations), Tamás Deme
Photo: Attila Kovács – Semmelweis University (featured image), Dr. Merkely Béla Facebook page, Directorate of International Relations
Translation: Katalin Illés-Romhányi