Coronavirus (1045) Compassion and COVID-19

23 October, 2020

(with thanks to Shams Syed, WHO)

As we prepare our first major thematic discussion of our Essential Health Services and COVID-19 project, I would like to invite reflection on the role of compassion in the era of COVID-19.

A background paper on this subject is available here:

Written in June 2020, it starts: 'The critical role of compassion in health and well-being has become increasingly clear amidst COVID-19. Both the disease and the global response have revealed and compounded many social and economic inequities. As Galea suggests in a recent piece in The Lancet, "This calls ultimately for compassion as the animating force behind our thinking about health, and our thinking about how we go about informing the decisions we make to contain a novel threat like COVID-19."

Shams Syed notes: 'We can think about it in two inter-dependent tracks: (1) the role of compassion in the care of patients with COVID-19, and (2) the role of compassion in maintaining quality essential health services'

'WHO Director General, Dr. Tedros, has emphasized, on a number of occasions, the critical importance of compassion during COVID-19. He has highlighted that 'compassion is a medicine'.'

Several health leaders comment on different aspects of the issue, including HIFA Steering Group member Liz Grant (Global Health Academy at the University of Edinburgh). One of her comments struck a chord with me: 'The public health mitigation strategies for COVID-19 are about separation and creating spaces. How do we fill those spaces with compassion instead of fear and anxiety, anger and shame? Palliative care is about giving people the space to become what they need to be in those last days.' The compassion shown throughout COVID-19 by global health professionals, including and especially Dr Tedros, helps to fill those spaces, as do the daily actions of frontline health workers, caregivers and others.

I invite HIFA members to share your thoughts and observations:


Best wishes, Neil

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HIFA profile: Neil Pakenham-Walsh is coordinator of the HIFA global health campaign (Healthcare Information For All - ), a global community with more than 19,000 members in 177 countries, interacting on six global forums in four languages in collaboration with WHO. Twitter: @hifa_org FB: