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Coronavirus (Covid-19): The greatest public health crisis in my lifetime

The coronavirus has caused an ongoing pandemic of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome. The outbreak started in Wuhan, Hubei province, China, as early as November 2019. The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak to be a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on 30 January 2020 and recognized it as a pandemic on 11 March 2020. Whilst we all have an interest in the ongoing spread and consequence of the greatest public health crisis in generations it holds a specific interest for me given my visits to Wuhan and Hubei province whilst working for Coventry University. Wuhan is a massive city with over 11 million of a population, but little heard of until this outbreak. It is believed that its origins are most likely linked to the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, in Wuhan which also sold live animals, and one theory is that the virus came from one of these kinds of animals. The virus spread quickly through the population of Wuhan City which led to comprehensive lockdown to contain the virus. However, the virus spread beyond the city across China and into other countries. The scale of the spread has been significant and by the time the World Health Organisation declared the outbreak a full pandemic in March 2020 there were cases recorded in hundreds of countries.

Cases in the UK emerged on January 31st 2020, which prompted a government response to manage the outbreak. In the early stages there was some discussion about “taking it on the chin” and allowing the virus to spread through the population in order to gain “herd immunity”. However, the public health, medical and scientific experts at Imperial College London suggested that the death toll through their modelling exercises, if this strategy played out, could be in excess of 500,000. This was a situation that would be socially and politically unpalatable, and a change of thinking emerged with a combination of social distancing, public health advice on washing hands and a strategy to protect the capacity of the NHS to cope with escalating cases. A new lexicon emerged that we are now all familiar with: flattening the curve, delaying the spread, the peak of the infection and latterly the language of the health professionals in the frontline supporting and caring for people acutely ill with Covid-19; Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP), ventilation and oxygen saturation and therapy. This is because the virus can attack the respiratory system leading to pneumonia and in several cases an immune response that leads to multi-organ shutdown. The media presentation of this crisis is all very frightening.

At the time of writing the pandemic has progressed relentlessly in the UK with currently over 65,000 people have tested positive and of those hospitalised nearly 8,000 patients have died. Some commentators have suggested that the UK was slow to recognise the seriousness of the virus and was slow to initiate the “lockdown” measures required to halt the spread. In addition, the UK’s position on testing for the virus has been criticised as slow, lacking preparation despite the global warnings from WHO and a shortage of the essential materials required. Whether these criticisms are valid only time will tell but the UK’s data on cases, hospitalisation, need for critical care and deaths is on a trajectory like other countries which could be described as liberal democracies. Here is the first clue to the timing of the response. The measures required to halt the spread of the virus have massive economic consequences. Balancing these two issues is incredibly difficult and has led to some commentators suggesting all liberal democracies will struggle to respond quickly enough.

What is now abundantly clear is that this is going to take some time for us to get through as a society and the consequences for large sections of our society are going to be devastating. However, what I’d like to discuss in the remainder of this blog are a number of early lessons and personal observations in terms of what we are seeing play out.

First, the data emerging indicates that the narrative about the “virus does not discriminate” is a false one. It is clear that health professionals are much more greatly exposed and that the data on cases and deaths indicate higher numbers of the socially deprived and BAME community. This should not be a surprise as the virus will be keenest felt in communities negatively impacted by health inequalities. This has been the case ever since we recognised this in the “Black Report” (DHSS 1980). The Report showed in detail the extent to which ill-health and death are unequally distributed among the population of Britain and suggested that these inequalities have been widening rather than diminishing since the establishment of the National Health Service in 1948. It is generally accepted that those with underlying health issues and therefore most at risk will be disproportionately from socially deprived communities.

Second, the coronavirus will force the return of big government. The response already supports this. In times of real crisis, the “State” always takes over. Will this lead to more state intervention going forward? If so then we will witness the greatest interventionist Conservative government in my lifetime.

Third, the coronavirus provides one more demonstration of the mystique of borders and will help reassert the role of the nation state. Therefore, the coronavirus is likely to strengthen nationalism, albeit not ethnic nationalism. To survive, the government will ask citizens to erect walls not simply between states but between individuals, as the danger of being infected comes from the people we meet most often. It is not the stranger but those closest to you who present the greatest risk.

Fourth, we see the return of the “expert”. Most people are very open to trusting experts and heeding the science when their own lives are at stake. One can already see the growing legitimacy that this has lent to the professionals who lead the fight against the virus. Professionalism is back in fashion, including recognition of the vital role of the NHS.

Fifth, the coronavirus could increase the appeal of the big data authoritarianism employed by some like the Chinese government. One can blame Chinese leaders for the lack of transparency that made them react slowly to the spread of the virus, but the efficiency of their response and the Chinese state’s capacity to control the movement and behaviour of people has been impressive.

Sixth, changing views on crisis management. What governments learned in dealing with economic crises, the refugee crisis, and terrorist attacks was that panic was their worst enemy. However, to contain the pandemic, people should panic – and they should drastically change their way of living.

Seventh, this will have an impact on intergenerational dynamics. In the context of debates about climate change and the risk it presents, younger generations have been very critical of their elders for being selfish and not thinking about the future seriously. Ironically the coronavirus reverses these dynamics.

Finally, I return to a point made earlier, governments will be forced to choose between containing the spread of the pandemic at the cost of destroying the economy or tolerating a higher human cost to save the economy. In conclusion, I have heard many say that this crisis is different to others we may have faced in the past 30 years and that as a result we can see society changing. Whilst I’m sure a number of the issues raised in this blog could potentially lead to society change it is also a truism that our memories are short, and we may return to life as it looked before this crisis quite quickly. Only time will tell.

Reference
“The Black Report” (1980): Inequalities in Health: Report of a Research Working Group. Department of Health and Social Security, London, 1980.

Surviving Corona. #BlackenAsiaWithLove

In my Sabbatical year spent here in Vietnam, it would be disingenuous NOT to speak about the Coronavirus. Without being hyperbolic, this is a crisis of every proportion. Here are a few of my observations. 

Today it was reported that the Whistle-blower, Dr. Li Wenliang, died of the virus. At the epicentre, Chinese health officials initially claimed the virus would peak and subside within a week’s time. There are claims that those predictions were made due to reticence to pass bad news up the political chain. Undoubtedly, we will celebrate him as a hero, for his efforts to alert the world while Corona was just an epidemic. For context: This same week, one of my state’s senators outed the whistle-blower who originally brought to light the massive corruption of the current White House occupant who was just acquitted. At the same time, in the middle of the (illegal) trade war between these two nations, Chinese health officials reference American health standards to legitimize their efforts to control this pandemic on the international stage – not the W.H.O. If my head weren’t spinning from all this news, then certainly even I am suspicious of my every cough or sneeze to the level of paranoia. Or, perhaps this pseudo-medical mask I am wearing is just rather annoyingly pinching my ears.

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M-m-m-my Corona!

Sitting on the ground, people are handling it reasonably well. That is to say, no one is running around screaming or losing their heads. Logistically, the virus could hardly have come at a better time. The city was already emptied out by those who had returned home to celebrate the Lunar New year, known in Vietnam as Tet. The weekend folks were set to return, orders came from on high to close all educational institutions, due to the obvious fact that classrooms huddle groups of people into close, closed quarters – infection heaven. Heck, classrooms are built as fertile grounds! Morally, it’s the exact opposite: What an unsettling ending to the region’s most festive season!

Worse still, there is a travel ban from China, while estimating that “Chinese visitors comprised almost 30 percent of the approximate 15.5 million international travelers who arrived in either Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City last year and translated into $30 billion from both the domestic and international market.” Who really can imagine the wider economic impact!?!

On my sabbatical, I am working in the language centre of a partner institution of my home university in the UK, which I got to know in my role as Senior Lecturer in International Business. Here, my desk is merely 15 feet away from the customer service desks where students come to register from the language classes, or any one of the ESL tests they must pass to graduate. Basically, at some point, every student at this university must come into this office. Additionally, we are a regional German-language testing centre, garnishing many folks from China (recall that travel ban!). While there are usually 6-7 ladies manning the kiosks, only two to three were called in the first few days to address students’ needs. Now, each day there is only one. Yesterday afternoon, it was announced again that all educational institutions would be closed for yet another week. Since I know that only a few of my colleagues are from Hanoi and are here with their parents, I suppose most of these ladies are home looking after their kids. I cannot imagine how other parents without grandparents nearby are dealing with this crisis.

A colleague told me last week that universities always reserve time within the term for such contingencies, but I imagine two full weeks of cancelled classes is a stretch. Certainly, my concerns have shifted towards the graduating seniors this term. Then, there are also the hourly-paid language teachers our/any centre hires. What about their labour? What’s more, our university is huge and sits next to at least 3 more universities, not to mention the 3 pre-schools I pass on my walk home. Again, all primary, secondary and tertiary schools are all closed for a second week after Tet. There are over 30,000 students, lecturers and staff. My husband has a similar gig down the road which boasts many, many more.

There are entire food and transportation economies woven around all these campuses. Most visibly, there are a host of corporate café chains, as well as typically Hanoian tea-stalls and street-food kiosks selling fast-food ranging from variations of noodle soups, to anything that can be deep-fried, steamed or cooked over a charcoal fire. Naturally, this Kentuckian spends way too much time at the grilled chicken lady. She does feet, as well as drumsticks and wings which she stretches out onto skewers and serves with hot sauce (so there’s no need to carry any in my bag). Most of these food outlets closed for Tet, but many simply have not re-opened since. The few that are open are virtually empty, save for the few pedestrians and commuters passing by, or the motorbike taxis that station themselves around each entrance to the campus alongside the tea-stalls. At least apparently,  their persistence offers moral support, though it is possible that economically, there ain’t enough business between them. Enough?

Since the outbreak, I’ve regularly received text messages from the Ministry of Health, as has been widely reported in global media. The messages are in Vietnamese, which Google translates in 1-click just by copying the text. This is all –perhaps strangely- reassuring. No, it is very reassuring. The same messages are also sent straight to my phone via regionally popular chat programs such as Zalo. ‘Google Translate’ is integrated into that programme, too, like a virus. There, MoH’s chat messages include links to extended articles, especially details on how individuals can protect themselves, plus further info such as: “All hospitaliszation costs, medications, and testing costs for nCOV-positive patients are free.” There are layers of ways of spreading knowledge about the impact of potential outbreaks of disease, especially since SARS. It’s refreshing to see social media used so purposefully.

The streets are vacuous and quiet. Ordinarily, Hanoi is a loud, crowded, motorbike ridden city, so this peace is…(sigh)…morbid. Again, there are no visible signs of panic on the streets. It’s lunchtime here in the office. While I was engulfed in writing this blog-post, everyone else has quietly slipped away. This is the first time that I find myself alone in this building. All I hear are birds chirping outside, and a few horns blowing in the distance. The parking lot is empty. I’m going home.

Whistleblower

For the courage of Dr. Li Wenliang (Photo from TheGuardian.com). May his family and friends at least know that his courage to speak truth to power has saved lives. May he Rest in Power.

 

Things I used to could do without a phone. #BlackenAsiaWithLove

A Spoken Word poem for young people everywhere, esp Youth in Asia, who may never know WE LIVED before smartphones…and live to tell about it.

Walk.

Walk down the street.

Find my way.

Go someplace.

Go someplace I had previously been.

Go someplace I had previously not been.

Meet.

Meet friends.

Meet friends at a specific time and place.

Meet new people.

Meet new people without suspicion.

Strike up a conversation with a stranger.

Make myself known to a previously unknown person.

Now, everything and everyone unknown is literally described as ‘weird’.

Eat.

Eat in a restaurant by myself.

Pay attention to the waiter.

Wait for my order to arrive.

Sit.

Sit alone.

Sit with others.

Listen.

Listen to the sound of silence.

Listen to music.

Listen to a whole album.

Listen to the cityscape.

Overhear others’ conversations in public.

Watch kids play.

Shop.

Drive.

Share.

Share pictures.

Take pictures.

Develop pictures.

Frame pictures.

See the same picture in the same spot.

Read.

Read a book.

Read a long article.

Read liner notes.

Pee.

I used to be able to stand at a urinal and focus on what I was doing,

Not feeling bored,

Not feeling the need to respond to anything that urgently.

Nothing could be so urgent that I could not, as the Brits say, ‘take a wee’.

Wait.

Wait at a traffic light.

Wait for a friend at a pre-determined place and time.

Wait for my turn.

Wait for a meal I ordered to arrive.

Wait in an office for my appointment.

Wait in line.

Wait for anything!

I used to appreciate the downtime of waiting.

Now waiting fuels FOMO.

I used to enjoy people watching…

Now I just watch people on their phones.

It’s genuine anxiety.

Walk.

Walk from point A to B.

I used to could walk between two known points without having to mark the moment with a post.

Now I can’t walk down the hall,

Or through the house or even to the toilet without checking my phone.

I avoid eye contact with strangers.

Anyone I don’t already know is strange.

I used to could muscle through this awkwardness.

Talk.

Have a conversation.

A friend and I recently lamented about how you used to could have a conversation and

Even figure out a specific thing that you couldn’t immediately recall…

Just by talking.

I also appreciate the examples we discussed.

Say you wanted to mention a world leader but couldn’t immediately remember their name. What would you do before?

Rattle off the few facts you could recall and in so doing you’d jog your memory.

Who was the 43rd US president?

If you didn’t immediately recall his name,

You might have recalled that the current one is often called “45” since

Many folks avoid calling his name.

You know Obama was before him, therefore he must’ve been number “44.”

You know Obama inherited a crap economy and several unjust wars,

Including the cultural war against Islam. And

That this was even one of the coded racial slurs used against him: “A Muslim.”

Putting these facts together,

You’d quickly arrive at Dubya! And

His whole warmongering cabinet. And

Condi Rice. And

General Powell’s botched PowerPoint presentation at the UN. And

Big dick Cheney, Halliburton and that fool shooting his friend while hunting.

That whole process might have taken a full minute,

But so would pulling up 43’s name on the Google.

This way, however, you haven’t lost the flow of conversation nor the productive energy produced between two people when they talk.

(It’s called ‘limbic resonance’, BTW).

Yeah, I used to be able to recall things…

Many more things about the world without my mobile phone.

Wonder.

Allow my mind to wander.

Entertain myself with my own thoughts.

Think.

Think new things.

Think differently just by thinking through a topic.

I used to know things.

Know answers that weren’t presented to me as search results.

I used to trust my own knowledge.

I used to be able to be present, enjoying my own company,

Appreciating the wisdom that comes with the mental downtime.

Never the fear of missing out,

Allowing myself time to reflect.

It is in reflection that wisdom is born.

Now, most of us just spend our time simply doing:

Surfing, scrolling, liking, dissing, posting, sharing and the like.

Even on a wondrous occasion, many of us would rather be on our phones.

Not just sharing the wonderful occasion –

Watching an insanely beautiful landscape through our tiny screens,

Phubbing the people we’re actually with,

Reducing a wondrous experience to a well-crafted selfie

But just making sure we’re not missing out on something rather mundane happening back home.

I used to could be in the world.

Now, I’m just in cyberspace.

I used to be wiser.

Life in the UK: Nigerians migrating from the other side

Damilola is a 2017 graduate having read BA Criminology with Sociology. Her blog entry reflects on the way in which personal experience can inform and be informed by research. Her dissertation is entitled Life in the UK: The individual narratives of Nigerians living in the United Kingdom and the different problems they faced during their integration into the UK

 

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During my research on the topic of migration and integration, it was important to me, to make the individuals the focal point. This is because the majority of research in this area, depicts a holistic perspective. Therefore, understanding each individual story was vital during my research. It enabled an insight into the different coping mechanisms the Nigerian migrants used, to compensate for the sense of othering they often felt.

One of the most eye opening stories was that of a woman who had bleached her skin to become lighter. She felt this would encourage others to accept her and also, make her more appealing to prospective employers in the UK. Nigerian women bleaching their skin is not a new phenomena. According to the World Health Organisation, Nigerian women are the largest consumers of bleaching creams. This was a very important aspect because it highlighted that, Nigerian women both home and abroad often feel inferior because of the colour of their skin. These bleaching creams can cause serious damages to the skin, however these women and others alike are still willing to compromise their health because, they believe it will increase their likelihood of success.

Here is a blog post that goes into further details about the side effects of bleaching:

When migration is spoken about, it is almost always portrayed as an ‘issue’, something negative that needs to be dealt with. This is particularly evident with the campaigns during BREXIT of 2016. A lot of times, this encourages a negative stigma of migrants, both internationally and those from neighbouring European countries. This is not only damaging to the potential relationship between countries, it also creates a divide, a sense of ‘us against them’. Amidst of it all, are the most sensitive victims, the children of these migrants. A Participant during my research mentioned her children learning slangs such as “init” to fit in with the other kids at school. She also made mention of shortening the names of her children to accommodate the English tongue of their peers and teachers. For her the mental wellbeing of her children was more important, than a proper vocabulary or the right pronunciation of their names.

Moreover this also leads to another misconception about migrants. The common viewpoint proposed by earlier research is that the lack of understanding of the English language is the barrier that most migrants face. However the results from my research propose a different argument. I found that, it was the foreign African accent that most participants felt others had an issue with. For most participants their accent was the most difficult thing to loose. This often proved to be a problem. This is because it made them stand out and, was a universal stamp that highlighted “I AM NOT FROM HERE” in a country that encourages everyone to blend in.

Once again, this illustrates the real issue with migration, for many migrants the sense of belonging is never present. As a participant pointed out “even after getting my British passport, I am still not like them. I will always be Nigerian, I know that now”.

In relation to the interviewing of the participants, this proved to be the most difficult part of my research. This is because the women often drifted away from questions being asked and told tales of people who had similar experiences to them. Nonetheless it was also the most rewarding experience because these different tales were embedded with deeper meanings. The meanings that would later encourage a better understanding, of the way the women coped with integrating into a new country. Moreover, as a migrant myself it was interesting to see the changes that had occurred over time and, also a lot of what has remained the same. This is because despite coming to the country at a young age, I was able to relate to some of the coping mechanisms, such as the shortening of my name to accommodate the English tongue.

As a recent criminology graduate, my dissertation on migration and integration was one of the most eyeopening experiences of my life. I have learnt so much through this process, not only about the topic but also about myself. I am grateful for this experience because it has prepared me for what to expect for my postgraduate degree. A friendly advice from me, to anyone writing their dissertation would be to START EARLY!! It may seem impossible to start with but it will all be worth it in the end.

GOOD LUCK !!

 

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