by Oliver Benoit, PhD, MFA
Ongoing conversations on social media highlight the seriousness of the Covid-19 pandemic in Grenada and the catastrophic effects on the nation.
Within the last month, Grenada has confirmed over 4,000 Covid-19 positive cases and over 50 deaths. Covid cases and resulting deaths are expected to increase exponentially before the curve begins to flatten. The authorities have taken action to contain the spread; questions can be raised about the effectiveness of those measures to reduce the rate of transmission of the virus. Following the current trend in infection in Grenada, the likely outcome over the coming weeks is the continued exponential spread of the virus before any flattening of the curve and eventual decline in infection and rate of transmission. As this trend continues, increased demand for hospital care is undermining our feeble healthcare system. It is likely to undermine the healthcare system if it is not yet happening.
This present situation facing Grenada today could potentially be one of the worst crises in recent memory. Grenada is likely to see an increased death rate beyond the 147 deaths caused by Hurricane Janet in 1955. The island is likely to experience worsening economic, social, and cultural for many years to come.
As the crisis unfolds, Grenadians are inundated with information that is not always helpful in decision-making, particularly when confronting conspiracy theories, including anti-vaccination propaganda. It is worth noting that misinformation about Covid19 and anti-vaccine propaganda also spread exponentially throughout the population, encouraging people to make decisions detrimental to their lives and livelihood, as well as those around them, including young and elder dependents. The misinformation, sometimes spread through social media, essentially undermines the already weakened democratic institutions, making it difficult for the authorities to address the present crisis effectively.
The weakness in our democratic institutions may have been exposed by Covid 19. It is not the time to address these weaknesses when a crisis of this magnitude can threaten the existence of the nation. Grenada needs to examine the economic and political decisions and the socio-cultural environment fostered over the last 40 years, that, I contend, would have contributed to our failing institutions. That situation threatens the nation’s existence, particularly since nations are not necessarily a given — nations require strong institutions to maintain their integrity. Or, for that matter, we want to avoid Grenada being called a failed state.
Nevertheless, our immediate task requires all Grenadians to speak and act, with one purpose — to control the virus before it is too late. This means recognising that we are not just an individual, but more a social being; we have a social responsibility to ensure the well-being of others if we are to survive as a nation. That means we all must continue social distancing where possible and encourage others to abide by this principle. The wearing of a mask in any social setting is also necessary. Wearing a mask also provides good protection, but many Grenadians have not been wearing masks properly. Everyone should constantly remind each other that mouth and nose must be covered when near to others, particularly in enclosed public buildings.
Of course, the effort to achieve all the above requires institutional support and well-organised social infrastructure and personnel with knowledge of the health and social sciences. Addressing the present crisis requires frontline workers (Doctors, Nurses and Police Officers and other volunteers) to have the appropriate PPE gears to ensure safety. Planning is essential, and the people who are losing family members will require immediate psychological and possibly social and economic support.
I believe the authorities should do more to encourage more community interaction, as well as to encourage scientific thinking to solve the current crisis at hand. In this context, the MOH should disseminate through the various social media, a more easily digestible format of the scientific guidelines developed and used by scientists, biologists and virologists and health educators who are working with institutions like the WHO and PAHO. These are institutions charged with the responsibility to lead the fight against the virus. It is also important to remember that PAHO has historically supported Grenada in securing vaccines for its population. This support over the years has protected the population from many of the viruses around.
The COVAX arrangement has made the Covid-19 vaccine available to Grenada while other countries struggle to satisfy their vaccine needs. Scientific thinking should also consider the stratification system of Grenadian society and work out a system for serving households and communities affected by Covid-19. At this point in the pandemic, when our health system is badly stretched, communities and community leaders must step up to supplement the work of the MOH by strongly encouraging the protocols and getting tested and vaccinated. For example, fighting Ebola outbreak on the continent of Africa was only effective because there was a network of healthcare workers embedded within communities. How can we isolate an infected person within a large family in a small dwelling? What is an appropriate form of public transportation that can limit the spread of the virus? How can we step up surveillance by centrally reporting unusual symptoms or epidemiological patterns while performing routine tests? We should address these questions in the coming weeks, and hopefully, social media will pick us these ideas for immediate discussion and recommendations.
In the simplest terms, we must take personal responsibility for ourselves and the people around us. Mask, sanitise, social distance, and follow the health protocols. If we have symptoms, isolate and call the Covid-19 hotline.
Oliver Benoit is a sociologist in the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences at St George’s University