Covid-19: Small changes may save more lives

The current Covid-19 situation, as health professionals point out, is frightening to say the least. However, the day-to-day life outside unfolded on the TV screen is reassuring. Crowds thronging in markets and on public vehicles, smiling vendors and customers, busy pedestrians and many an idle bystander with masks covering their chins or hanging precariously from an ear tell us a different story- that our panic may be somewhat premature and not everybody is upset about the soaring number of Covid infected. The cries of despair of the patients and their loved ones, overflowing hospital wards, corridors and mortuaries and overworked medical staff appealing to people to avoid infection at any cost seem to have little effect on some. How is it that so many people seem to be complacent about the situation? Haven’t they got the message yet?

Experts have been telling us ad nauseam that we humans are the carriers of the virus and if we keep ourselves isolated for at least two weeks we may stop the virulent virus in its deadly tracks at least temporarily. This would prevent many avoidable deaths and the agony for their loved ones besides giving breathing space to all those who are involved, on whose selfless work and dedication the entire nation depends for its survival at this critical moment. They are actors of an unprecedented ‘behind the curtain drama’ where each and every actor is a star performer with zero visibility and earning little appreciation and less gratitude. Till the virus gets us, many of us wouldn’t realise the impact of our fall and our total dependence on the invaluable services of all those involved in multiple ways in the task of protecting their fellow humans.

In this context, the least we can do to help them is to avoid being infected and an unwitting spreader. Thus, how can we understand the apparent lethargy of a significant number of people who don’t seem to realize that in this crisis “each one for oneself” is the best principle of altruism? Whether the message has been effectively conveyed to the layers that are most susceptible to the infection due to their poor financial stability and its attendant ills deserves attention. While positively responding to the expert opinion that the need of the hour is to halt the virus flow immediately at least for two weeks to revitalize the entire system, it would improve things in the long term if a few simple changes can be made in communication techniques to give a jolt to those who seem to remain unconvinced for various reasons. This will be important since a two-week lockdown is not going to be the end of the menace.

Those who venture out on a daily basis to earn their living and consequently become the most potential vectors constitute the major portion of the super spreaders of the disease. They have little opportunity to watch TV where the masses get their daily dose of information relating to the virus control. Ironically, those who can afford the luxury of watching TV at any time of the day are so well informed by now that they can do without more of it. And, they enjoy more protection as they rarely go out. What’s more, specialists lament that they only increase the boredom of TV viewers by repeating the same instructions day in and day out. Thus much of the effort at communication seems to miss the target; as such a shift of attention from the masses to the most vulnerable groups and modifying the techniques to prod them to preventive action may contribute towards saving lives. It would also bring immeasurable relief to all those exhausted health professionals working round the clock at various levels.

For example, the cellphone recording being played to warn us against the perils of infection has lost its edge now despite its familiar note of urgency. Can any improvements be made to this with special focus on the most vulnerable groups? After all, there’s hardly anybody without a mobile phone nowadays. Can marketing specialists help save valuable lives by advising the concerned parties on how to make the message more attention grabbing, specific and action-oriented so as to prompt those who are most vulnerable in society to act more proactively and conscientiously for their own benefit in the first place as well as for collective safety? It would be much more productive than trying to reach all the people and missing many. The expertise of psychologists who are confined to TV discussions may be harnessed more effectively in creating such impactful messages. Inventing other techniques such as short-messages and sharp alerts through the cellphone will make a dent in their work-obsessed indifference towards the lurking danger.

To make matters worse, social media is replete with many recipes of herbal soups, seasoned coconut-water, etc., that promise to prevent and cure the disease. We have not forgotten how various rituals of pot-throwing and syrup drinking gave, so to speak, ‘pot-valiance’ to thousands of people who may have innocently contributed to the spiraling of the infection to its fatal level today. Such acts of collective folly would also be significantly countered by making scientific information easily accessible to those on the fringes.

What needs emphasis is that empowering those who are most vulnerable to the infection due to their multiple deprivations may entail long term benefits to all of us. The communication of scientific information to underprivileged segments of the society seems to be obscured by aiming at the entire populace. Being a bit more innovative in sending the right information to those who are more exposed to danger without taking the easy way of demonising them is likely to pay considerably in terms of minimising our collective misery.

Susantha Hewa

Thank you

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