COVID-19: The forgotten priorities of the pandemic

15.04.2020 – Researchers from the Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine (ISPM) in Bern, Switzerland and Pontificia Universidad Javeriana in Bogota, Colombia, highlight four key aspects that currently might not be in the top list of priorities regarding the pandemic of COVID-19 but that need special attention: side effects of social distancing and isolation, misinformation, attention to specific vulnerable populations and individuals’ wellbeing.

Social distancing or isolation can have serious negative consequences for psychological wellbeing. Researchers emphasize the importance of social interaction and the value of social capital in challenging times and, consequently suggest to use the term “spatial distancing” instead.

Just as the spread of the virus has grown exponentially, so has the amount of information. Misinformation can arise from both inaccuracy of information and excess of it. Uncertainty, isolation and mobility restrictions can cause anxiety and stress that can impair quality of life, trigger the onset of mental disorders and affect the immune system. Miscommunication between researchers, academia and policymakers impairs the process of adopting timely and evidence-based measures. This highlights the need of facilitating the access to evidence-based information provided by central sources and the role that specialists can play in providing access to this information and acting as communication agents.

As the pandemic reaches low- and middle- income countries, weaker healthcare systems and limited resources make halting the pandemic extremely challenging. Particularly vulnerable are: elderly, healthcare personnel, indigenous populations, homeless people, migrants and persons who live with disabilities. Special support should be given to healthcare workers, who besides being at high risk of acquiring COVID-19, might present symptoms of psychological distress.

Strategies to care for the wellbeing of our citizens need to include preventive measures in mental public health and should reach especially vulnerable populations and other groups frequently neglected.

The authors call upon the relevance of the social features of the pandemic, concerning all societal groups and reiterate that only through cooperation and solidarity will long-term solutions to the pandemic and its consequences be achieved.

Corresponding author: Cristina Mesa Vieira
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