• Thursday, May 28, 2020
  • Last Update : 08:53 pm

Communicating about the coronavirus

  • Published at 08:38 pm March 13th, 2020
corona mask-Notre Dame College
File photo: Students have started putting on masks at Notre Dame College in Dhaka to avoid Covid-19 infection. The photo was taken on Monday, March 9, 2020 Mehedi Hasan/Dhaka Tribune

When it comes to spreading information, let the experts handle it

Bangladesh, over the decades, I believe, has done very well in terms of making the people aware about innumerable health-related issues. We have been successful in communicating to the people about many issues that have saved millions of lives.

We have also become very successful as far as disaster management is concerned. The government, with the help of national and international NGOs as well as the media, has done a commendable job in raising the awareness that has led to a behavioural change in people and ultimately saved lives. 

We informed the people in time so that they did the right thing during a natural disaster or a health crisis.

These days, we don’t have to tell the people how to prepare oral saline at home -- it’s common knowledge. 

Similarly, each and every man and woman in Bangladesh now knows about family planning. We have successfully instilled the knowledge in the minds of the people about contraceptives and their use.

There was a time when we didn’t know about vitamins. The national and international health officials had a tough time immunizing our children with various types of vitamins. But that hurdle was also won through proper communication.

These have been possible because of well thought-out communication plans. The government could also successfully sensitize the media on how to communicate all these important issues. 

The media has come forward with vigour, helping out with these national issues. That was truly commendable on the part of the media.

However, with the global outbreak of the deadly Covid-19, people are panicking and unsure of what to communicate to the global population. Some governments are trying to communicate on to how to take preventive measures to avoid virus contamination. 

The WHO has also said there’s an “infodemic” spreading across. It looks like the media is also in a panicky situation.

The media hasn’t been providing any complete story that may mention numbers of survivors in their headlines. The headlines evoked fear and the news stories have neither been inspirational nor factual. 

We must allow the coronavirus survivors to speak and tell their experiences. There are lessons to be learned from their experiences. 

Let’s look at some recent headlines:

CNN: “Bodies ‘pile up’ in morgue as Iran feels strain of coronavirus.”

The Guardian: “First UK death from coronavirus confirmed as cases surge to 115.” 

Premium Times of Nigeria: “Coronavirus: Global death toll exceeds 3,000.” 

Al Jazeera: “Death toll from coronavirus in Italy rises to 148: Live updates.” 

Newsweek: “Coronavirus update, map as death toll reaches 3,200. Infections soar in Italy, Iran, and South Korea.”

This is a very traditional and typical way of shouldering the responsibility of informing the masses. But this is not a traditional moment or time. This crisis is not like any other health crisis.

However, the media has lately started to reiterate the preventative measures in their reporting. We must be very careful and cautious about the types of information we share with the people. We must not provide anything and everything that we get to know about the virus and its contamination.

The media in Bangladesh, on the other hand, has done better than the international media. The Bangladeshi media were seen to remain very careful while informing the masses about the virus, its severity, and the impact. 

As far as I have seen, the print and online media haven’t overdone anything to fan panic among the Bangladeshi people. When it comes to electronic media, however, I’m unsure and can’t comment.

The government, too, seemed very observant of the situation abroad and didn’t make any untoward statement that may fuel panic among the people. 

It was late in its response to prevent the virus, but it was good to see that there was only one point of contact which has been disseminating information.

The Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR) has been holding daily press briefings and providing updates regarding the situation in the country. It was also great to see that no minister or official has been making any stray statements. It’s good to see them act wisely.

Although belated, the government has also done a good job by instructing all the hospitals and clinics to get ready for any unfortunate situations such as in China or Italy. It has instructed businesspeople to not create any artificial crisis in the market. 

It has also requested Bangladeshis not to come home right at this moment. The prime minister herself has requested everyone to avoid all kinds of gatherings, but no one seems to be listening to her.

Meanwhile, social media platforms have turned out to be a menace as far as posting wrong information is concerned. Suddenly, everyone has a PhD on the coronavirus and has been advising others without the facts. 

I believe the government as well as the experts should assess the wrong information on these platforms and remove the wrong and baseless ideas during the daily briefing of IEDCR.

Let our IEDCR do all the communication regarding the Covid-19 virus. This is not the time to be imaginative; it’s time to know the facts and prepare accordingly.

Let the professionals shoulder the responsibility of providing information. 

Ekram Kabir is a story-teller. His other works can be found on ekramkabir.com.

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