When the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020, Jay Bhattacharya, M.D., Ph.D., turned his attention to the epidemiology of the virus and the effects of lockdown policies. Dr. Bhattacharya was honored with the 16th Doshi Bridgebuilder Award on Sept. 13, 2022 in recognition of his consequential research focusing on the economics of health care around the world with a particular emphasis on the health and well-being of vulnerable populations.
Named for benefactors Navin and Pratima Doshi, the award is given annually at Loyola Marymount University to individuals or organizations dedicated to fostering understanding between cultures, peoples, and disciplines. In his opening remarks, Navin Doshi offered insights for bridgebuilding, encouraging the audience to adopt principles of co-existence and to avoid the trap of polarization. “Nature’s nature is to create pairs of opposites within and without,” said Doshi. “The path for transcendence is to bring balance, harmony, and complementarity between the opposites.”
Bhattacharya is professor of health policy at Stanford and a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research. As part of the event, Bhattacharya gave a lecture exploring “The Economic and Human Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic and Policy Responses.” Bhattacharya’s recent research focuses on the epidemiology of COVID-19, including the lethality of COVID-19 infection and effects of lockdown policies. He presented data and statistics supporting the idea that lockdown policies were more damaging than the virus itself. To address future waves of COVID-19 and future pandemics, he advocated for an approach to health policy that would avoid widespread lockdowns and instead focus protection on the poor, elderly, and other vulnerable groups at greatest risk for financial hardship, illness, and death.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has affected everyone on the planet,” said Christopher Key Chapple, Ph.D., Doshi Professor of Indic and Comparative Theology and founding director of the Master of Arts in Yoga Studies. “I am grateful to Dr. Bhattacharya for his bravery in expressing initial concerns about pandemic policies and for continuing to shine a spotlight on the impacts of these policy choices so that we can be better prepared in the future.”
Dr. Aaron Kheriaty, chief of psychiatry and ethics at Doc1 Health and chief of medical ethics at The Unity Project, gave a brief commentary following Dr. Bhattacharya’s lecture. Dr. Kheriaty provided a broad historical context for infectious disease from the lepers in the Old Testament to the Plague of Justinian in Ancient Rome to the 1918 Spanish Flu, highlighting the fact that COVID-19 represented the first time ever in the history of managing pandemics that we quarantined healthy populations.
Both Bhattacharya and Kheriaty emphasized that they were not interested in placing blame, but rather in examining and revising our systems so that next time this happens we aren’t as susceptible to fear, panic, and sacrificing certain values and beliefs.
Audience feedback commended LMU for hosting an open discussion about the controversial topic of pandemic policy, as well as Dr. Bhattacharya for being a bastion of preparedness and moderation.
“The Doshi Family Bridgebuilder Award event is one of the highlights every year at LMU and the caliber of awardees/speakers has been truly world class. A list of those individuals reads like a ‘who’s who’ of thinkers and innovators worldwide, whose collective impact has been immeasurable,” said Robbin D. Crabtree, dean of LMU Bellarmine College of Liberal Arts. “This year’s event continued in the same vein, with a topic that is as current as it is urgent. We are grateful to the Doshi family for their vision in creating this award, and their steadfast commitment to liberal arts education and its impact.”
Dr. Bhattacharya has published more than 160 articles in top peer-reviewed scientific journals in medicine, economics, health policy, epidemiology, statistics, law, and public health, among other fields. He earned his M.D. and Ph.D. in economics at Stanford. Previous award recipients include Deepak Chopra, Zubin Mehta, Huston Smith, Vandana Shiva, Pratapaditya Pal, Tulsi Gabbard, Rev. James Lawson, among others.
The award ceremony is jointly sponsored by Bellarmine College of Liberal Arts, the Department of Theological Studies, and the Navin and Pratima Doshi Professorship of Indic and Comparative Theology, which is held by Chapple.