At the beginning of 2020, Zulma Cucunubá’s WhatsApp began to fill with messages from friends who knew her work: “Is this a manufactured virus? We are going to die? They asked me very funny things and I answered them, but at one point it was exhausting, ”recalls Zulma, who is an infectious disease epidemiologist and works as a researcher at Imperial College London and the Department of Epidemiology at the Javeriana University, in Colombia.
As the news grew increasingly alarming and doubts reproduced at the same speed as misinformation, Zulma found a way to communicate what she knew to everyone at once: Twitter. In January 2020, two months before the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the pandemic, she wrote a thread of explanatory tweets about the origin and direction of covid-19, with emojis and links to articles describing how science developed in real time.
“I had to remove the notifications from the cell phone because that exploded and I think it was because in Latin America no one, up to that point, had written anything or made many statements,” he says. I was worried. She knew that the region was not prepared for a pandemic, but she worked hours collecting information to analyze and then fulfill the outreach work she had undertaken. “It was very rare that role of communicating without frightening, but without diminishing the importance of what that was,” he says. Finding themselves in that same dilemma, the WHO asked the scientific community to enter social networks and begin to report.
“Several Internet greats, such as Twitter and Google, made this alliance with the WHO, to put the official contents of health entities first,” he explains, “and on Twitter the option was to certify scientists, so that our opinion would weigh more than influencers. We became authorized voices, if you will, on the networks ”. Along the way, he began to reflect on the importance of a more multidisciplinary epidemiology, because, although he works with public health, mathematics, immunology, biology and engineering, it is necessary, for example, to involve the social sciences.
“I cannot imagine an epidemiologist who does not know, at least, a little of communication”, he enumerates, “of economics to understand the society in which it operates and of anthropology to understand how to put that information into the mathematical models that we make ”. It is a matter of seeking more diversity, he says, of gaining more contributions and more methods, of “bringing in more women, more communities and minorities.”
Zulma believes that one of the keys to preparing for the future is to start educating in epidemiology from school, since they should not be considered knowledge reserved for the scientific community. And also train resilience. “For this pandemic 15,000 Intensive Care Units (ICUs) were needed and if 40,000 are needed for the other, what are we going to do? That resilience is given by adapting and being flexible. What does having a backup mean? Having more people trained than is ultimately needed. I would summarize that preparation is based on planning to be resilient ”.