Audrey Hinchcliffe | COVID-19 – in search of a czar or czarina
“ Too many voices on my head, like my ears are seeing red.” (Rob Giles)
These lyrics aptly describe the variety of actions and mixed messages brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.
The collision between government policy, scientific research, and health promotion makes me want to ask: “Where do I go? I’m lost and confused,” (Lizzy McAlpine). That is why I am in search of a czar or czarina. No! I am not searching for an autocratic ruler or leader. I am searching for a person who can “exercise great authority or power in a particular field”. In this case, a voice for the coronavirus pandemic and the related vaccine.
There is so much information swirling around, and the fact that control of the spread of the infection continues to trend in the wrong direction is an indication that there are too many voices in our heads, so we have started to tune them out. We have become numb to the impact of sickness, death, and despair, so we party more than usual whenever and wherever – clubs, homes, bars, restaurants, beaches, and rivers. We create superspreader events and participate with wild abandon. Disaster Risk Management Act and Protocols be damned!
So, who will people listen to? If they have ceased listening to the information on the spread of the virus regardless of source, some don’t even believe that the virus really exists, how then are we going to get people to believe there is a vaccine for it?
The messages coming from government policy, scientific research, and public health need to be packaged and the delivery coordinated into a national COVID-19 strategy to bring the country together via one trusted voice to focus on the challenges, avoid confusion, and embed in our psyche the coronavirus messages that will convince the populace that the virus is real, and the vaccine is safe. The consistent voice of a czar or czarina and a focal point for information and data collection to state our opinion, ask questions, share information, and lodge complaints would also serve as the foundation for evaluation of the outcome of messaging.
From commissions, working groups, and task forces, reports abound. Whether on websites, shelves, desks; in libraries, archives, consultants’ report, minutes of meeting from local and international conferences, or whatever and wherever documents are placed – but unless like me, you are a news junkie, voracious reader, or avid researcher – the reports will escape you. The advent of the coronavirus has set in motion a frenzy of gathering, packaging (and stowing away), information in all sorts and stripes. Just when we thought that Vision 2030 was the guidepost, the coronavirus has given us the Business Recovery Task Force Report with the tagline “Rebuild Jamaica”. The industry-type strategies and companion protocols are of benefit to no one where it sits on a website. There is something in it for everyone (except the commercial cleaning industry). As if this obscure document were not enough, we hear of a National Vaccination Commission. I am waiting for this report with bated breath. If strategies, recommendations, and action plans are not executed with measurable, impactful results, they are not worth the paper they are written on or the websites on which they are posted. That is why we need the voice of a czar or czarina to interpret the policy intent, prepare simplified fact sheets, and drive the polices. I do understand that government policies emanate from the respective ministries and agencies and are approved by Cabinet. How they get rolled out for public consumption is another matter. In the case of treating with the coronavirus, while public health is in the driver’s seat (or so it should be), many other interests such as local government, tourism, education, finance, among others, have their respective voices on procedures and protocols.
These are the voices in my head.
In the absence of one voice with the coherent message, everyone takes licence to open their mouths and let words drop out. A case in point is one mayor who spewed the utmost nonsense about the vaccine. I find it so strange that he is not aware that our people live in those big countries to be experimented on for his benefit. The first in line in New York was a Jamaican nurse, and it touched a chord as during the first week of vaccines my own daughter, a doctor in Atlanta, took the vaccine. Therefore, I have worry when people who are in a position of influence are spewing a negative message how the public-health message is going to be of any effect. This is why I make the case for a czar with the credibility to tamp down messages such as that of the goodly mayor’s. Sir, the scientists have already done the work. The Ministry of Health and Wellness’ internal mechanism will inform and protect the citizens. Let’s not get ahead of them.
Scientific research underpins the process by which we understand the behaviour of viruses as it relates to norms and standards to contain the spread of diseases, their causes, care, and treatment for those they affect. While there are country-specific standards, in the case of healthcare, the World Health Organization (WHO) brings the world’s scientists and global health professionals together, hence the Research and Development Blueprint that was activated to accelerate diagnostics, vaccines, and therapeutics (reference WHO R&D Blueprint and COVID-19).
“Scientific research” built on the response to recent outbreaks of the Ebola virus, SARS-CoV, and MERS2 CoV was able to fast-track a coherent approach to COVID-19.
Because of proximity and familiarity with the USA, the tendency is to listen to the news from the multiple sources available via cable news Additionally, the frenzy of social media is unhelpful. So there are authentic research findings, happy talk, tweets, and Facebook, among others, from which we get information – good, bad, and indifferent. In this regard, we need a czar or czarina to guide us to interpret facts from fiction, to clear our brains of the coronavirus cobweb, and to prepare us for the vaccine – when it arrives. Sooner rather than later. How many more will have to suffer and die before it gets to us?
Health professionals need to sit firmly in the driver’s seat whether it is a Lada or a Lamborghini – pick your choice – but drive you must, going in the same directions. It is early days yet (though maybe late). Whether you are involved as a member of the National Vaccination Commission, whether you guide, provide support, or manage facilities, it must be about people, yes, people. It is people who make things happen. It is people who are causing the spread of the coronavirus. It is the people who will have to stop it. It is people who will have to take the vaccine. The required resources must be garnered in preparation for its arrival.
We are depending on you to set the example by taking the vaccine and encouraging people to take it too. Your message must be convincing that the vaccine is safe in order to overcome the fear and scepticism and build confidence. We have to save our own lives from the coronavirus. Along with scientists – virologists, epidemiologists, educators, doctors, and nurses, and all professions allied to health, your actions must have influence on changing behaviours. For example, if people are to take control of their health, promotion must be at the core of addressing the coronavirus. Warnings and recommendations are of no value if they are not lived. Being aware that people are irresponsible and even selfish, you must not underestimate the message you send. With so many voices, a well-chosen czar, or any other name, is needed to pull all the messages together for delivery. Although not a one-size-fits-all, that person will conduct the band comprising government policy, scientific research, and health promotion to sing from the same hymn sheet. “Ultimately, the greatest lesson COVID-19 can teach humanity is that we are all in this together,” Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw.