Statutory research agency, the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), will conduct a public survey on social media and follow-up qualitative studies, to better understand what the South African public knows about Covid-19, the state of readiness to deal with this global pandemic and how they feel about it.
The survey is aimed at gaining a better understanding of how Covid-19 impacts on the most vulnerable and marginalised in South Africa, the HSRC says.
The results of this survey will be released as soon as possible to help inform an integrated response to the pandemic, says HSRC CEO Professor Crain Soudien.
“Covid-19, the current strain of the coronavirus that is affecting the world now, presents us with a biomedical crisis. We will have to come up with a therapeutic vaccine to treat those who are affected by it .
“However, in its origins, in its reproductive pathways and, critically, in its effects, Covid-19 is a social phenomenon. It takes its form, character, scale and intensity from people’s interactions with each other. If we all lived entirely by ourselves – completely unimaginable, of course – any contagious condition which we would acquire would begin and end with each one of us. We live, however, as social beings.
"We require each other – for mutual support, for care, for enablement and, yes, management of each other, for ensuring that we have in place the systems, infrastructures and practices that will give us some sense of assurance that we will all be reasonably safe, reasonably secure and reasonably healthy,” he notes.
Soudien points out that it is important to assess how society manages itself and relationships with other people.
"If a disease is social, how does South Africa, which is the most unequal country in the world, manage itself? How does it manage the circumstances and the life-chances of the most vulnerable, the aged, the poor, and those who are less able to choose ways of life that take them out of harms’ way?”
“The answer to these questions is complex. It calls for the rapid assimilation of the very best scientific knowledge we have at our disposal. We must understand, scientifically, the nature of the disease, whatever it is, as fully as we can. But we must also come to a quick understanding of how social factors such as poverty and inequality, education and physical environment will position socially vulnerable people,” he says.
He stresses that people "in socially diminished circumstances" are more likely to carry the burden of the disease.
“If this passing on of Covid-19 to many more people in South Africa happens – and it is bound to happen – extra steps have to be taken. We need to craft a management model that takes cognisance of the South African realities, where a vast majority of people do not have running water, access to medical services or to the range of hygiene products and amenities to manage this, and will not easily have the option to self-isolate, but will continue to be subjected to using overloaded modes of public transport and sharing public spaces.”
“What kind of public health approach must we now take? In the long run, a capacitated national health system is essential. We are, however, in a situation where an appeal to the luxury of the long-run is almost cynical. We have to act now. We must give serious consideration immediately to the public management of our social interactions with each other.” Soudien states.