For St. George’s University Department of Public Health and Preventive Medicine staff and faculty, there were many signs that COVID-19 would become a major threat to the world’s health: from the announcement of increasing cases, to the declaration by the World Health Organization of a pandemic, to the closing of port entries.
They reacted by reading and obtaining information from credible sources (e.g., WHO, CDC) and following their guidance on mask-wearing, sanitation and distancing, and getting vaccinated (and convincing others to do so). At a departmental level, it involved collaborative initiatives like COVID-19 communication advisory committees and a KAP COVID-19 study.
One of the biggest challenges, they say, was ensuring, obtaining and reporting accurate information, especially in the early days of the pandemic when much was still unknown and many were starting to promote interventions that lacked clear evidence of their efficacy. Says Professor and Track Director Martin Forde, “Dealing with the sheer quantity of misinformation and conspiracies this pandemic generated and trying to debunk them, especially such misinformation that came from colleagues and personal family members, [was a major challenge].”
But there were lessons to be learned. Professor Forde notes, “The more things change, the more they stay the same. …The traditional hygiene and sanitation measures are tested and proven strategies which, no matter how advanced and developed we get, the basics will always be applicable in promoting health and preventing diseases.” Further, Forde says, “COVID-19 illuminated the gaps and deficiencies in the public health system. The lack of priority toward public health was apparent and I expect that to unfortunately remain the case. We will no doubt be challenged with what will, not may, be the next disease outbreak and even a pandemic, but the reprioritization of public health and strengthening of health systems to manage disparities and inequities will persist.”