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Pandemic control through community involvement

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(Vienna, 09-06-2023) In the scientific discourse on possible improvements in pandemic management in the top journal "The Lancet", a letter under the lead of the Medical University of Vienna was recently published. In this paper, Ruth Kutalek from MedUni Vienna’s Centre for Public Health and her colleagues from Bangladesh, Uganda and France stress the importance of involving communities and civil society organisations in pandemic response efforts.

At the centre of the considerations is the fact that top-down measures will not address deficiencies in pandemic management and lead to mistrust, rumours and non-compliance. For example, as Ruth Kutalek points out, during the 2014-16 Ebola epidemic in West Africa, massive shortages of personnel and materials, as well as inadequate community engagement, led to disastrous results. Lessons learned from this failure now ensure that pandemic management decisions are often accompanied by community engagement activities - especially in low- and middle-income countries, but much less so in Europe.

The COVID 19 pandemic showed that community engagement models can be just as important in high-income countries. Moreover, despite the proven effectiveness of community engagement in pandemic response, very little was done in the European COVID 19 response to promote measures to control transmission or improve vaccine uptake. "Social participation specialists and social scientists must have a place in decision-making bodies and be involved at all project levels, from planning to implementation," concludes Kutalek with the aim of improving pandemic management in the future.

Publication: The Lancet
Community engagement: learning from low-income countries
Ruth Kutalek, Syed Masud Ahmed, David Kaawa-Mafigiri, Tamara Giles-Vernick