Coronavirus (624) Uncertainty amidst COVI-19 (4)

19 May, 2020

Dear Neil, Shabina and Sian

When disagreements emerge the root causes are usually misconception and misinformation. We can even say knowledge and belief are in conflict. Let us first assume that no one wants to bring harm to loved ones but we have noticed interventions that are harmful. For example, religious leaders advocated against measles vaccines and against HPV vaccines and now in the middle of a pandemic they are inviting people back to their places of worship. We know religious leaders are powerful and trusted and worshipers listen and follow.

There is no doubt that vaccines work. To curtail the expansion of COVID-19 we also know social distancing works. To address misconception and misinformation we have to find ways to communicate to religious and community leaders not by sending a one size fits all messages but by doing everything we can to include them as part of the solution. This is not easy but doable. We need to go to them, speak to them in their languages and dialects. We need to find ways to let them know that they are influential, important and can protect their followers. We have to assume that they wish good health and longevity for their followers. We need to tell them that we are there to help not lead. When I say we, I meant respective government officials, WHO and all of us listed here. Effective communication is understanding the audience and rewriting the scripts to deliver the core messages. In this case, vaccines and social distancing save lives. Why don't we go oo out of of our way to explain succinctly and effectively the importance of preventive health in as many languages and dialects as possible?

If the virus stays even in a single rural village we can expect expansion. Look back in 1982 when HIV-AIDS emerged. The scientific community looked away and it took ten years before they asked which species. Reverend Billy Graham in a 1983 Time Magazine cover article stated that it was God's punishment to to gay py people. That caused governments to look away. The scientific community did not know and the Reverend assumed incorrectly that God actually punishes people by sending viruses. It was misconception and miscommunication why we still have HIV-AIDS. We now have better surveillance and responses but we still do not know how best to reach religious and community leaders not just in developing countries but globally. In Virginal, USA, a pastor invited worshipers back to his church in the middle of the expanding COVID-19 pandemic. Several of the worshipers and the pastor passed away as a result of COVID-19 and other complications. This pastor had all the information he needed in his own language. What should the government of Virginia and the US Federal Government have done to protect the public?

We now hear anxious government leaders promising return to where we were before the pandemic. How about a new normal that is based on effective communication devoid of misconception and misinformation as well as expansion of healthcare and vaccines for all?

Church leaders should refrain from making such decisions. For example, the Pastor in VA who lost his life and caused other to lose their lives. In Ethiopia, the Orthodox Patriarch just ordered worshipers to return to church. During Ramadan, church leaders in Ethiopia ordered worshipers to stay home and pay. The Pope celebrated Easter alone. Why the discrepancies?

We have Trump who has no clue but we the people could say no. FYI, I published this op ed in our local paper and also posted it on MoveOn:

https://sign.moveon.org/petitions/we-are-the-most-unprepared-country-in-...

I published and also sent this follow to the White House Task Force as al follow up to the op ed:

https://sign.moveon.org/petitions/we-need-a-national-covid-19-mitigation...

Keep safe,

Enku

HIFA profile: Enku Kebede-Francis (PHD, MS, MEd) is an advisor in global health governance. She has worked for the United Nations (UNESCO, UNDP, UNFPA and UNDPI); was an Assistant Professor at Tufts University Medical School/Department of Public Health; and, a Visiting Scientist at the USDA’s Center for Human Nutrition Research Center for Aging and a Visiting Fellow at the Australian National University Medical School. She also designed and implemented preventive health programs promoting women’s health and tobacco cessation programs in Croatia and worked on addiction prevention programs in Florida and Massachusetts, USA. Her professional interests include preventing scurvy and childhood blindness in developing countries using micronutrients. An advocate for primary healthcare for all as a right, she published a textbook in 2010, Global health Disparities: closing the gap through good governance.