'Involve other academic disciplines in Covid-19 response': Academy of Science

The Academy of Science says social scientists and humanities scholars should be represented on Covid-19 advisory structures. File photo. The Academy of Science says social scientists and humanities scholars should be represented on Covid-19 advisory structures. File photo.
Image: 123RF/Jarun Ontakrai

The Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) is appealing to the government to include in its Covid-19 response other academic disciplines that will provide insight on the impact of the pandemic beyond the medical discourse.

The letter signed by Prof Jonathan Jansen, president of ASSAf, and other professors has acknowledged and congratulated the government on its response, but said the effects of the pandemic are complex and require a far-reaching approach.

“While it is important to have epidemiologists, vaccinologists and infectious disease experts on these bodies, we believe the pandemic is not simply a medical problem but a social problem as well. This means social scientists and humanities scholars should also form part of these advisory structures as the following examples illustrate.

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“Psychologists need to advise on the far-reaching mental health costs of the pandemic following extreme forms of isolation. Sociologists need to advise on the efficacy of social distancing in human settlements marked by inequality.

"Anthropologists need to advise on meaningful rituals of mourning when numbers are restricted for funeral attendance, and family members cannot touch loved ones in their final moments. Economists must advise on how to enfranchise workers such as the self-employed."

The letter mentioned other disciplines that could contribute to the response to the pandemic.

In partnership with medical scientists, the government would benefit from an inclusive, multidisciplinary approach to science advice that can only strengthen the leadership response to the pandemic, said the letter.

ASSAf is also concerned about movements between regional African countries.

“In normal times, thousands of Africans travel back and forth every month between South Africa and the other Southern African Development Community states and beyond. It is vital that the regional connectedness of our African neighbours is accounted for in the deliberations of the national coronavirus command council.

“We should do so not only because of the regional, integrated character of the public health crisis, but as a statement of solidarity with African neighbour states with even more precarious national health systems,” said the letter.

The academy said the coronavirus laid bare the deep inequalities in society.

“We dare not reset as a country without addressing the dangerous fault lines exposed by the pandemic.”

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