During the Ebola crisis, one of the biggest problems arose at funerals, because when they said goodbye to their loved ones, wakes turned into outbreaks, since the corpses were still very infectious. There was an unbearable number of infections, but families did not pay much attention to the blunt recommendations of health authorities, usually from outside Africa. Until a team of anthropologists was brought into play who, from the knowledge of culture and customs, helped to rethink these wakes together with the leaders of the communities, and in this way the rituals and sanitary measures were made compatible.
Now, during the coronavirus crisis, everyone is longing for vaccines to arrive. But the solution will only come if people put it on. For this reason, the Ministry of Science has sociologists to measure the perception that Spanish society has about these vaccines. In this way, they will be able to anticipate possible misgivings by designing strategies and campaigns, with the help of communication specialists.
These are just a couple of examples of the many in which the social sciences are very useful during pandemics in which, naturally, all the focus is on the biosanitary field. However, during the management of the covid in Spain these branches of human knowledge have been almost completely ignored, according to their professional groups. “We are concerned because in all management aspects in which the social sciences can contribute a lot have been neglected,” laments Arantxa Elizondo, president of the Spanish Association of Political Sciences and Administration (AECPA). The organization he chairs has signed a document that denounces this situation together with other academic associations representing anthropology, geography, communication research, sociology and pedagogy (ASAEE, AGE, AE-IC, FES and SEP).
“From the outset, the pandemic demonstrated the virulence of its social dimension: on employment and the productive system, on the formal (income, mobility, density) and informal (solidarity networks) geographies of our cities, on the management of data, hospital management, family structures, online education or public administration governance processes ”, explains the statement they signed. And he continues: “The world that COVID-19 unfolded before our eyes turned out to be, from the first moment, a social world. Therefore, the relegation and abandonment to which the social sciences have been subjected from the political management bodies of COVID-19 is striking ”.
“The virulence of its social dimension”
“The human sciences cannot predict, but we have tools for different scenarios depending on the measurements, or drawing towards which scenarios we can lead the situations,” says Cristina Sánchez, president of the Association of Anthropology of the Spanish State.
“A courageous approach, with empathy at its core, will help us overcome this crisis. Despite the difficulties, COVID-19 urges us to go beyond the biomedical sciences in our response ”, defended the World Health Organization (WHO) last week, in a statement calling for human sciences specialists to be given way to help in the response to the pandemic. “In Germany, the government has consulted with philosophers, historians, theologians, and social and behavioral scientists who provided valuable input on the educational progress of children from disadvantaged families, the legitimacy of restrictions, and the balance between public support and moral norms against the coercive actions of the state ”, explained the WHO as an example.
“Most of the countries with which we like to compare ourselves have financed the social sciences from the beginning,” says Alberto Corsín, CSIC social anthropologist and coordinator of the protest statement. Corsín points to countries like Germany, where they have funded social research, the United Kingdom o USA, where the National Science Foundation launched in April a call for projects of “fast answer” to conduct “non-medical and clinical care research that can be immediately used to explore how to model and understand the spread of COVID-19, inform and educate about transmission and prevention, and encourage the development of processes and actions to address this global challenge ”.
Work with communities
To illustrate examples in which these fields of knowledge are useful in the face of covid, Corsín recommends the works that are being compiled in the UK Academy of Social Sciences, and recalls the sensitivity displayed in the management of Ebola, “which is very present in almost all social research carried out in the United Kingdom today”. As an opposite example, in which things have not turned out well for ignoring the social sciences, Corsín points out the “tricky” question of delimiting the “community” area in which to act epidemiologically in a territory: districts, health areas, etc. . Each city is a world, he points out, and to understand which are the communities in which to intervene, it is convenient to study “geographies of income and inequality, ages and mobility patterns, the frameworks of the informal economy, etc.” “This is what the WHO refers to when it says that you have to work with communities. Not to intervene, or militarize them, or isolate them, or medicalize them, but rather work with them ”, he adds.
All three consider that these moments of de-escalation and taking restrictive measures for the population, coordinated between administrations, should have been advised by knowledge of their disciplines. “So that there is no failure of the measures due to lack of support, when intervening in habits, rituals, customs, we must understand the unwritten rules of how our societies work,” says Sánchez. Elizondo, from his field, explains all the difficulties that have arisen around decision-making, how they have been implemented and the obstacles that were encountered: “All this mess with competences, relations between governments, are fields in which we could be contributing improvements in public policies ”.
That young people do not take risks
“Public managers are facing a very difficult situation, but an analysis that could have been done on how to apply measures has failed, resorting to studies and experiences with which specialists could shed some light,” he summarizes Elizondo, professor at the University of the Basque Country. Both she and Sanchez, a researcher at the CSIC, put the example of youth nightlife, against which restrictive measures are taken, after the scientists’ diagnosis, but which is then difficult to translate into practice. “How can it be done, how to get young people to enjoy themselves, get involved and not take risks?” Asks Elizondo, who answers himself: involving and listening to them with the tools of sociology, communication, pedagogy and anthropology. He adds another example: “And how to get people to get the vaccine, how is it going to be distributed, how is it going to be distributed, how is this mass vaccination going to be organized? That needs a structure, a new logistical organization, a coordination of administrations for the purchase ”, indicates Elizondo, who puts his field of political science and administration as an answer.
These specialists also focus on the evaluation of management, demanded by epidemiologists and public health specialists, but in which they have a lot to say, given that a good part of the problems arose due to friction between administrations, the administrative structure of the health or the social and demographic structure of Spain. “Science cannot make decisions, scientists have to be the ones to say what to do, what to do, but they only give light. Decisions have to be implemented by those who know how to do it, ”Elizondo recalls.
Information about the coronavirus
– Here you can follow the last hour on the evolution of the pandemic
– This is how the coronavirus curve evolves in Spain and in each autonomy
– Download the tracking application for Spain
– Search engine: The new normal by municipalities
– Guide to action against the disease