Isn’t It Amazing That In A Pandemic, Us Humans Are Relying On Fake News?

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This post is a part of YKA’s dedicated coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak and aims to present factual, reliable information. Read more.

Coronavirus sprang up in late 2019 and it ended up becoming a pandemic, as recently declared by the World Health Organisation. The novel Coronavirus has already proven its virulent and deadly nature.

Over time, as it is spreading across India, personally, I realised that the real horror associated with the disease is not the virus or its fatal nature, but what came with it, fuelled by both dumb human nature or opportunists.

Whenever there is a disaster, we see both the best of humanity as well as the worst. I have pointed this out in my article about the devastating Kerala floods in 2018.

And, the Coronavirus pandemic, apart from being a global medical crisis, also ended up becoming a test for humanity. The three forms of horror that were witnessed during these challenging times are racism, shortage and fake news.

Racism

The novel Coronavirus has been named COVID-19 by the World Health Organisation. The full form is COrona VIrus Disease and the number 19 is to highlight that the disease was detected in the year 2019. While this name was revealed by the WHO, they specifically pointed out the important reason behind it; to tackle racism and stigma that may come with the association of a disease with its place of origin.

The novel Coronavirus was called the Wuhan virus or Chinese virus as the first outbreak took place in Wuhan province in China, killing thousands in the process. This is also their way of calling out the previous names like the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) which also comes in the category of the Coronavirus.

The sad part is that the damage was already done because Asians around the world starting facing racism. Several Asian tourists faced bullying in Europe. An Asian doctor who lived all her life in Australia revealed that her patient refused to shake hands with her because “Coronavirus kills.”

People from Northeast India have faced vile forms of racism across India and the Coronavirus outbreak served as salt in the wound. Northeastern Indians reported several incidents of bullying. Notably, the incident involving two female students who were attacked by six men during Holi where balloons were thrown at their private parts while shouting “Coronavirus!” at them.

In the US, Asian Americans saw a decline in their businesses and more discrimination amidst the fears. Judging the number of cases and the places, it is clear that the virus knows no race.

Fake News

Most of the discrimination and bullying are indirectly fed by the false news that comes along with the COVID-19 outbreak.

As of today, there are 130,180 infected people and as many as 4,755 people have died. Most of the infection and related panic can be avoided if fake news is curbed and by taking the right information to the right person.

For example, the whistleblower Dr Li Wenliang was detained and forced to sign a declaration when he first reported a ‘SARS-like disease.’ Afterward, the disease spread to more people, leading to a major outbreak that took many lives, including his own.

If the authorities had taken Dr Li’s words into account then a lot of damage could have been prevented.

That being said, sometimes a lot of people like Dr Li are not taken seriously due to this phenomenon called fake news. The boy who yelled “wolf!” faced that consequence. The media played its role in terms of exaggeration and further inducing panic.

What’s worse is that certain news will lead to worse consequences. The debates regarding the COVID-19’s status as a biological weapon continues, most of the accusations come from far-right leaders including commentator John Bernstein who said that the virus has been created to bring down the Trump administration.

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There were articles after articles that presented various conspiracy theories without evidence to further escalate this.
In Kerala, there were reports about a person escaping isolation and quarantine. Several media platforms reported that he was COVID-19 positive. Others suggested that he was only a primary contact of an infected individual whose test results are yet to come.

And, it is probably no coincidence that the Kerala government announced a partial shutdown around the same time this news came out.

At this time point of time, it is imperative to curb fake news and completely focus on the information provided by legitimate sources like the WHO or CDC.

There was also painfully hilarious news about the military lock down, lemon juice efficiency, and newly discovered vaccines.

The last thing social media platforms should share is conspiracy theories without evidence that may feed the ongoing racism towards Asians. The majority of the fears related to Coronavirus in India were induced by the spreading of misinformation thanks to WhatsApp marketing.

Fake news is as virulent and malicious as a virus.

Shortages

Thanks to the spreading of misinformation and the resulting panic, people resort to the best way in which they can protect themselves from the infection. I live in Kochi, Kerala, India.

Many department stores, medical stores, and shops have run out of hand sanitisers and face masks due to the COVID-19 epidemic.Worldwide, shortages of medical supplies also led to theft.

This is an alarming situation because it means that people who actually need might find it difficult to get resources, especially the infected people and authorities who treat them.

A young woman wears a face mask while out in public. (Photo: Sanchit Khanna via Getty Images)

Medical experts claimed that technically there is no point in wearing face masks as it is effective only to a certain degree. What it does is prevent the virus from entering through nose or mouth. If you touch a surface with Coronavirus on them and scratch your eyes while wearing a face mask then the joke is on you right there and then!

Also, due to the tendency for people to reuse the mask and leave it on surfaces, the chance of infection is higher. UK’s deputy chief medical officer Dr Jenny Harries said, “In fact, you can actually trap the virus in the mask and start breathing it in.”

The same thing applies when it comes to hand sanitisers. The people who desperately need it are medical professionals and others who work for the mass amidst the outbreak.

What Should Be Done?

1. Don’t spread fake news. Refer only legitimate sources for information like CDC, WHO, etc.

2. Wash hands properly with soap for 20 seconds. This is as effective as a hand sanitiser. You should wash your hands after going to public places, travelling in public transport, if you touch public areas or structures like rails, in between work if you are dealing with strangers, etc.

3. Avoid crowded places.

4. Stay away from people who show symptoms like cough, cold, and fever. But, don’t be insensitive, encourage them to go to the doctor and get treatment. More than anything else, discourage and call out racism.

5. Do not touch your eyes, mouth or nose unless you have washed your hands. Remember, you can still touch your eyes by accident while wearing a face mask.

6. Be aware of the surroundings and news regarding the COVID-19 outbreak. Keep your eyes open for people who show symptoms, especially if they come from places affected by the disease. If someone in your family has that then follow the government’s protocol and report.

The authorities (of different states in India) have taken radical decisions like penalizing those who don’t report COVID and those who refuse treatment.

7. Wear a face mask only if it is absolutely essential; if you are going to public places etc.

8. If you are living in a COVID-19 hotspot, then avoid non-essential travels altogether until the situation is stable.

So, take care and be alert. This phase will pass soon with the help of vigilance and precaution by people. Help tackle the viruses in forms of racism and stigmatisation that still need more efforts to be eradicated.

Featured image for representative purpose only.
Featured image source: Jacob Snippel for the US Navy via Military Health System/Official Website; Getty Images.
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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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