A Reflection on How COVID-19 Health Communications Could Be Done Better
I know when you boil it down, people are just numbers.
Around 7.846 billion people on Earth.
Around 131,342,071 cases of COVID-19.
Around 2,853,631 confirmed deaths also because of COVID-19.
Statistics are just numbers with the tears dried off.
But seriously, what are 2,853,631 (two million eight hundred and fifty-three thousand six hundred and thirty-one people)? I spelt it out to magnify it because these numbers are people.
People that were sick.
People that died.
If that is hard to get your mind around, then how about this:
To help you wrap your head around mind-boggling numbers and put them into perspective, let us convert the numbers into faces.
The communications around COVID-19 have been shameful at most.
Presented coldly as mortality rates.
It makes it easier to swallow when a person is a number.
But what if that number becomes you?
Isn’t it disheartening to think that just because it is easier for those of us surviving to swallow, we convert heartbeats into deathbeds by converting faces into numbers?
I want to see a section on the news called ‘COVID-19 too soon’ dedicated to those we lost during the pandemic.
I want to see hospital walls decorated with plaques containing the names of healthcare workers who lost their lives saving others.
I want to see trending Tweets from ordinary people affected by the pandemic that would have been considered by science “too healthy to get sick”. Perhaps with the hashtag #toohealthytogetsick.
I want a bereavement support platform for all those who have lost a mother, a father, a grandparent, a friend, a spouse, a lover, or a loved one to COVID-19 called COVID-RIP.
Instead of all the Zoom calls trying to continue with work and life as if nothing is happening, I want a Zoom call for strangers who are lonely because of lockdowns just to have someone to talk to.
Instead of all the epitaphs, I want to read love letters about lost loved ones.
Think of a public health campaign that says, ‘My grandmother loved butterflies. She was amazed by their transformation. Their beautiful colours. Their uniqueness. She is no longer there to see the butterflies in our garden. She is now the butterfly. Wear a mask so you will not have to fly away too.’
Think of how public health statistics would change if we could all see the stories behind the numbers.
I want to read the stories behind the statistics.
This pandemic has shown us that it is as much as a communication crisis as it is a public health crisis.
Having the right communication from the right people to the right people at the right time can save lives.
We need to stop resorting to people who have died as numbers or statistics lest we feel something.
We need to stop hiding behind the excuse of patient confidentiality to avoid talking about humans simply as humans.
We need to stop being afraid of our emotions.
We need to know peoples’ stories.
We need to remember peoples’ names.
We need to inject more humanity into our health care systems.
We need to revolutionise health communications through humanising people.
Referring to people as numbers literally dehumanises them.
People are not made of numbers.
They are made of stories.
They are made of scars.
They are made of stars.
They are made of anything but statistics.
Let us shift the paradigm where people are not just counted but rather where people actually count.
Can we start a COVID communication revolution called ‘My Name Was’, where we honour those who lost their lives by sharing their stories? Not just how they died because that is the last page of the story. But how they lived. What legacies they left behind. How they want to be remembered.
I know this may sound grim.
I know this may hurt.
But I want to tell you that it is okay to feel other peoples’ pain as if it is your own.
Emotions are what humanise us.
Stop trying to silence them.
Honour others by honouring these emotions.
I know statistics are people with the tears dried off, but if you refuse to dry the tears behind the numbers you will see the people, you will hear the people, but most of all, you will feel the people as if it were you behind the numbers.
Because it is only a matter of time before you and I are also numbers.
Always remember stories save lives.
Moreover, stories give life to those whose lives could not be saved and have become statistics.
How about we do something differently? To remember those that did not want to leave so soon and do not want to be forgotten, let us create a COVID-19 Virtual Memorial Map.
Use these FIVE simple steps to commemorate your loved ones lost or affected by COVID-19:
Build fully customizable data capture forms, collect data wherever you are and analyze it with a few clicks — without any training required.
Easily build a medical form, collect data securely from your smartphone or browser and analyse it with a few clicks.