Bending the Covid-19 ‘infodemic’ curve
For an initial blog post, I would like to pick up on a theme that my colleague Brendan Shaw used in his recent blog: “The ultimate weapon against Covid19? Understanding”. In his post, Brendan notes the need for understanding across multiple areas for us as a global society to defeat Covid19:
knowledge of what we need to do and why
understanding the context of different countries and cultures, and
understanding human behavior and behavioral change.
My perspective is shaped both by my training and experience as a primary care physician and by my 20 years of experience in global health across the NGO and private sectors working on both communicable and non-communicable diseases.
Clearly, we all need a way to prioritise and navigate through the tsunami of information that is coming through all kinds of media.
By now, everyone is aware of the basic recommendations about frequent handwashing, social distancing, how to cough, etc which are roughly the same everywhere.
And many of us are aware of the increasing volume of commentary and analysis in the lay and scientific press. For example, MedRxiv, a pre-print server for complete but unpublished research, listed 997 articles as of 31 March; the NIH’s National Library of Medicine PubMed listed 1,953 publications.
We are suddenly hearing and seeing a range of experts (and some non-experts), who have been parsing through the available data and making analyses, projections, and – recommendations.
With all this information coming through, the Director General of the World Health Organization, Dr Tedros, refers to it as an “infodemic”.
Although much of this information can be informative and helpful, it’s perhaps worth stepping back and looking at the larger picture.
Clearly all of this is intended to meet the gaps in understanding that Shaw identifies in his blog, but how can we take it all in, given that most of us are not at the scientific experts in epidemiology or virology or public health?
How do we use this growing mountain of information as we each try to figure out the right course of action for our own situations which are so varied, be it country to country, or city to countryside, or moment to moment?
We all have to make decisions as basic and immediate as: How do I stay healthy? How do I take care of my loved ones who may live far away when I’m in lockdown? Is it okay to go outside? Can I let my children play outdoors?
And then there’s trying to plan for the future: What will happen to my job? When will things return to normal? What will the new normal look like?
I won’t pretend to provide definitive answers to any of these questions and note that the very nature of the information we’re seeing speaks to cultural norms and differences.
A colleague pointed out to me that perhaps the information overload we’re seeing coming out of the US and Europe mirrors a lack of trust in our political leaders and designated government leaders.
And that perhaps this contrasts with the differences in cultural norms between Western countries and Asian countries such as South Korea, Singapore, and Taiwan, countries where it starting to seem possible to “bend the curve” of the epidemic.
Certainly we do benefit from the free flow of ideas that is part of our Western culture, and I would like to believe that this will eventually lead to both deeper insights and more innovation on ways to combat, slow, and eventually stop the epidemic and its possible recurrence.
But as we navigate our way through this, perhaps it’s also important to take the time and to be present and centred in each present moment and to safeguard our own mental and spiritual health - both now and for the future which awaits us.
* Evan Lee is a Geneva-based consultant and an expert in global health policy. He has previously worked for pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly, the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics (FIND), Management Sciences for Health and Medicines Sans Frontieres. A medically qualified doctor by training, he has a BA in chemistry and physics from Harvard University, a medical degree from New York University School of Medicine and an MBA from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
 Search term: “((wuhan[All Fields] AND ("coronavirus"[MeSH Terms] OR "coronavirus"[All Fields])) AND 2019/12[PDAT] : 2030[PDAT]) OR 2019-nCoV[All Fields] OR 2019nCoV[All Fields] OR COVID-19[All Fields] OR SARS-CoV-2[All Fields]” generated by link from NIH’s Coronavirus page: “https://www.nih.gov/health-information/coronavirus”