A message to SGS students
Dear Students,
As I was kindly asked to say a few words on the current Covid19 situation, in my capacity as a former WHO officer**, I am, of course, tempted to repeat all recommendations that you have already heard over and over these past weeks. But no, I don’t want to add to an already very large concert of voices. Instead, I wish to try to address here some questions that may puzzle you and for which, so far, I rarely see answers.
Issue 1: on receiving sometimes confusing messages from authorities: you need to understand that scientists are still learning about that new coronavirus, and that this may lead—sometimes—to some seemingly contradictory advice on the same things, along the time. This is normal. At times of a pandemic, scientists cannot just wait until they “master perfectly” a subject before acting and delivering what are the soundest recommendations then; they have to act “to the best of their knowledge”. They need to provide the best recommendations they have, based on the knowledge at the time, then adjust constantly, in line with upcoming new knowledge. However, even though scientists are still learning about that new coronavirus, they are not starting from scratch; there is a tremendous body of knowledge on epidemiology, virology, infectious diseases and clinical medical sciences they can rest upon.

Issues 2: “Infodemic”: Despite this ongoing learning by scientists and that learning-by-doing by clinicians, and the subsequent apparent uncertainty, there is still one thing that is absolutely sure: that you can rely much more on these scientists than you can on all those buzz-hungry social media, spreading unreliable data and information. Those “I-tell-you-all-the-truth-about-that-pandemic” people, spreading a whole lot of wrong information are dangerous and irresponsible. Mind you, they may also sound documented and professional, and some of them may even be medical professionals, but if they are not at the forefront of the research or of the action — and without access to the latest data and lessons learned — they may share incorrect information. I have seen quite a lot of it these past weeks (for instance, among many, this registered nurse who —in all kindness – advised people to self-medicate with drugs …that have now been proven to aggravate the condition of Covid19 patients). It is therefore critical that you cross-check any information – especially those that are sensational in nature (for the buzz!) — with the most reliable sources available. Here are a few of those reliable sources: World Health Organization (WHO), US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (mind you, this is mostly US-centered), Harvard Medical School/Coronavirus resource center, COVID19 mapping by Johns Hopkins University, and specifically for Thailand or in Thai language (as recommended by my colleagues at the TU Faculty of Public Health): Thai CDC (in Thai),

https://www.facebook.com/ThaiPBSFan/

, https://twitter.com/i/events/1240300661364772864,

This is particularly important if you wish to stay away from a permanent state of anxiety, constantly solicited by an endless flow of “tragic” information, while you want to keep yourself updated on the situation. And – Oh! — one little trick you may also use is to “snooze for 30 days” (Facebook’s feature) friends who keep spreading those unreliable and scary news. You’ll see, you can breathe better after that. This way, you don’t argue or lose your friends, but you don’t let them harm your mental health. Let’s call it a “digital self-confinement”.
Now, let’s talk about how to put all the chances on your side, without repeating what you keep hearing all the time.
Much indeed was said on those “barriers to the virus” behaviors (e.g. washing your hands very frequently — synchronizing the latter with the cleaning of your mobile phone pad! — not touching your eyes, nose and mouth, social distancing, wearing a mask, and ultimately the best: confine yourself at home). I strongly reinforce here those recommendations. In addition, allow me to deliver a few other ones: as you are aware, most serious cases of Covid19-affected persons are those with low immunity. So, there are good reasons here to, first, avoid behaviors that are known to lower your immunity (for instance, referring to the above, stress and anxiety are known to depress immunity, so, it is not helpful to constantly feed yourself with anxiety-inducing news), and second, adopt behaviors and habits that could help you maintain, or even boost, your immunity.
Here are a few activities that are easy, pleasant, and have been proven to maintain or boost immunity (I strongly encourage you to find the relevant scientific articles substantiating that, they are many): eat healthy food (stay away from fast food and sugary aliments (sweet soda, etc.), sleep well (at night! Not during the day), maintain good, pleasant and supportive social relations (whether online or with your roommates), meditate, get into balcony gardening, select and read books and watch movies that make you “feel good”, play music, dance in your bedroom, do things you normally like doing when you’re at home, and—yes! — have fun. While there is, at present, no research on the direct preventive and protective effects of those activities on Covid19 specifically, there are good reasons to believe nonetheless that they will put the chances on your side.
Also, if during these challenging times, you have a chance—in one way or another—to help others, without taking risks for yourself, just do it! Altruistic activities have proven to be an effective means to fight anxiety and depression (you may want to visit that site Covid19 relief in Bangkok.)
Finally, since I am also talking as a faculty, let’s take this whole trying time as an opportunity to learn. To learn as much as possible and draw the lessons from what we observe. Because — and this is critical! — once the Covid19 crisis is over, the last thing we need is to just get back to “business as usual” without learning the lessons. Time to reflect. On our lives, on our society, on our World.
Stay safe and see you in our next online course until we can meet again in class!
Aj. Stéphane P. Rousseau
School of Global Studies, Thammasat University
Faculty
Former WHO Regional Coordinator (for Global Fund)
Former Regional Coordinator of the GMS Communicable Diseases Control project (for the Asian Development Bank)
** IMPORTANT NOTE: I was recruited by WHO for my expertise in management and cross-sectoral coordination, not as a medical expert, which I’m not. This text, therefore, represents my opinion only, and should, by no means, be taken as a WHO or a medical expert’s official guidance.
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