Insight: COVID-19 response ignores social context at our peril

While frantically reading news about COVID-19, I wonder why the voices of social scientists and even public health specialists seem so subdued. Clearly, they have a contribution to make in the fight against the coronavirus based on their disciplinary core principles and what has been learned from other epidemics, foremost HIV. 

Being a medical anthropologist, I will start from what we may be most obsessed with: context, context, context. We know that the key in preventing transmission is slowing down human movement and reducing crowding. Based on experience with related viruses, especially in Asia, we have a number of tools at our disposal, from testing and identification of carriers and their contacts to washing hands and social distancing, isolation and quarantine – to name a few. These measures are meant for the entire global community, but there is no universal guideline on their right mix and no consensus on the degree of enforcement required to ensure people’s adherence. This is where understanding of what is feasible and effective (or not) in particular contexts becomes strategically relevant. 

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Associate Professor Rosalia Sciortino