CQUni PhD student Rashidul battled COVID-19 symptoms while researching the virus' impact on aged care facilities

10 March 2021

CQUniversity PhD student Rashidul Hashan was just five days into his research on preventable diseases like COVID-19 when he started experiencing symptoms of the virus himself.

Although Dr Hashan didn't require hospitalisation' debilitating symptoms meant he had to isolate at his home in Bangladesh' but with the support of his fellow researchers and supervisors' Professor Gulam Khandaker from the Central Queensland Public Health Unit and his CQU supervisor' Associate Prof Delwar Akbar' he was able to tackle the virus head-on and complete this stage of his PhD program.

The research' which focuses on the burden of vaccine preventable infectious diseases among highly susceptible populations' like those in aged care' was recently published in The Lancet Group Open access journal' EClinicalMedicine' among the world's oldest and best-known general medical journals.

"I first started experiencing COVID-19 symptoms from 12 September last year and was diagnosed on 18 September. My PhD research journey had officially commenced on 7 September'" Dr Hashan said.

"It seems (odd) to receive great news in the academic learning space and at the same time have to go through the experience of a totally novel disease as a patient."

As a physician himself' working for Bangladesh's Ministry of Health and Family Welfare at the Upazila Health Complex' Rashidul had already seen the full effects of COVID-19 by the time he was diagnosed.

"I was fortunate to recover with mild to moderate symptoms. (After diagnosis) I isolated myself fully at home and treated the symptoms' recovering completely with weakness only persisting a little more than a month'" he said.

"It was truly a pain-staking experience in the early days of symptoms when I felt severe weakness and moderate body-aches.

"Most importantly it was the anxiety and stress that gets into thinking what might happen or what the possible outcomes following diagnosis might be.

"I am really grateful to my supervisor' CQ Health's Public Health and Clinical Research director Professor Gulam Khandaker' who consistently provided advice to focus on my health and not to bother about the academic tasks."

It was two weeks after the easing of symptoms when Rashidul re-started work as part of the research team' helping to scan more than 5000 documents. The project identified 49 studies from 14 countries across four continents' sorting through data on 214'380 residents in 8502 care homes' with 25'567 confirmed cases of COVID-19.

"There was a lack of summarised scientific evidence on how hard the pandemic had hit aged care facilities' so our research aimed to investigate the epidemiological burden and we found a high attack rate (45 per cent) and case fatality rate (23 per cent) among aged care facility residents'" he said.

The findings also revealed the introduction of COVID-19 outbreaks in facilities mostly occurred in residents (58 per cent) and staff (42 per cent). He said the evidence collected showed that health officials needed to reassess strategies to battle the pandemic within aged care facilities.

Dr Hashan said it was "a dream come true" to have the research featured in The Lancet.

"There is no value in doing research unless the knowledge gets translated in the real-world practice to solve the existing health problems and improve the well-being of people'" he said.

"I am honoured and proud to be part of a dynamic research team' who are humble' yet skilled in their respective fields."

The research was funded through the 2021 Centre for Regional Economies and Supply Chains Internal Grant Funding Scheme. The work was also supported by a Queensland Advancing Clinical Research Fellowship awarded to Prof Gulam Khandaker by Queensland Health's Health Innovation' Investment and Research Office (HIRO)' Office of the Director-General.

Professor Gulam Khandaker is an Adjunct Professor at CQUniversity and his Queensland Advancing Fellowship is administered by the University. Rashidul is also supported by a CQUniversity International Excellence Award.

The journal article can be read HERE