Journalism and health

03. Preventive measures in the face of Covid 19 /

The main topic that has taken centre stage in the news during 2020 is the Coronavirus pandemic, which revealed the importance of the role played by health journalists and how vital it is that they master health topics.

Around the world, health journalists have been mobilised to tackle the various topics related to Covid-19, especially the disease prevention.

In the poorest countries in the world, the local authorities focused on prevention, as they were aware of the disaster they would have incurred had they had to treat a large number of patients.

As virologists and epidemiologists express their concern about the possibility of the emergence of new epidemics due to global warming and the deterioration of biodiversity, reporting about disease prevention in the press covering global health topics will be an emerging issue in the coming years, and we can refer to the Covid 19 pandemic as an example.

It is necessary to adopt preventive behaviour, wear masks, respect social distancing, implement quarantines, and adopt various preventive measures to contain the virus at the local and international levels. These procedures are often questioned, especially with regard to their effectiveness and the suspicion they raise.

At the international level, all health journalists have been mobilised to fight preconceptions about the pandemic, and to encourage their followers, in a pedagogical tone, to adhere to preventive measures (washing hands, sneezing in the elbow, respecting a distance of one and a half meter between people), wear a protective mask. They also explain that the infection is transmitted by saliva droplets, and stress the importance of avoiding family or friends gatherings, or religious assemblies.

Of course, local customs are a crucial component when it comes to conforming to these instructions. For instance, wearing a mask is common in China or in Japan, whereas in the Middle East and Africa the measure is quite new and is viewed as a coercive step.

Moreover, health journalists had to explain how the virus detection tests work, stressing their benefits, the principles of tracing individuals with Covid-19, and tracing those who had been in contact with the infected.

Lastly, and always in the field of prevention, health journalists have had to use a pedagogical approach to explain the importance of lockdown measures or curfews prohibiting going out and about.

Accordingly, they had to explore many medical and technical domains and make them accessible for the general public, such as epidemiology, virology, and statistics. They also adapted to the local characteristics of the target audience.

Let us travel together to other parts of the world to unfold these characteristics. Let’s start our tour with a visit to Indonesia.

Indonesia is the most hardly hit country by the Coronavirus in the Southeast Asian region, with a toll of 220,000 infections and 9,000 deaths. Nonetheless, his did not deter anti-mask movements which have been very widespread and active in the country, which has greatly embarrassed the authorities whose awareness campaigns did not serve an educational purpose and were not appropriately operated. Therefore, authorities were forced to take stringent measures to punish those who refrained from wearing masks: they made them dig the graves of Covid-19 victims, and pushed them to lie in coffins…

In the eastern world, the month of Ramadan coincided with the peak of the pandemic wave, and everyone had a hard time coping, given the long-standing tradition of Ramadan gatherings and dinners with family and friends. Also, explaining the necessity of complying with the mandatory closure, and avoiding gatherings outside family reunions, constituted a real challenge, especially in some conflict-ridden areas.

Let’s point out that in the Levant, people were more accustomed to washing hands even before the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic: [statistics show that] 97% of Saudis and 94% of Turks wash their hands after using the toilet.

Now, our last stop is in Africa. Last June, West Africa was on the verge of becoming the pandemic’s second hub in the world. The only possible immediate response was prevention, as the medical response was insufficient. This preventive response called for a mobilisation of the entire society. The authorities’ strategy focused on diagnosing the virus, tracking people who had contact with the infected, and monitoring them. It also focused on women and paid special attention to combating rumours and various forms of misunderstanding, and contributed to disseminating reliable information about the disease, to prevent women from refraining from visiting health centres and clinics to avoid infection.

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