Doctor chides ‘stone silence’ amid rumours

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By Kadeem Joseph

A medical doctor is underscoring the importance of proper communication after it was confirmed last week that a local medical practitioner was being treated for Covid-19 in hospital.

That confirmation came from Dr Joseph John during an interview on state media last Tuesday following days of widespread rumours circulating on social media – with no comment forthcoming from health officials.

Dr John also disclosed that the sick practitioner, being treated in intensive care, had seen several patients before he was hospitalised, and authorities had contacted people who could have been exposed to the potentially life-threatening virus.

Dr James Knight explains that good risk communication allows for the sharing of adequate and timely information to the public without causing alarm, whilst refraining from divulging details that may be sensitive.

“Stone silence in the midst of widespread rumours is not a good strategy and this is what has happened – stone silence in the midst of detailed rumours,” he added.

Dr Knight noted that the circulating claims about the ailing doctor went as far as suggesting that he had died.

He described the situation as “unfortunate” because the confirmation coming from outside government-employed health officials made it seem as though something was being hidden.

“And why it’s unfortunate is that the team is doing a good job,” he said, citing that their response has been on par with other places in the world. The exception to that, he said, is the inability to do increased testing due to a lack of resources.

“It is unfortunate for you to have an unnecessary development like this to taint the operation [and] to tarnish the wonderful and very hard work that the people doing the contact tracing and so on must be doing,” Dr Knight added.

The former community doctor believes that health officials should have explained to the public that a doctor was ill and patients that he may have seen could have been infected. Letting them know that necessary contact tracing was carried out, and those at risk quarantined to avoid significant community spread, would have avoided the spread of rumours and thus people questioning the ministry’s motives.

Knight said while he has no reason to believe the medical practitioner in question was seeing patients while aware he was ill, the matter may be referred to the medical council and subsequently the disciplinary committee for clarification “for the sake of the population and the doctor’s own reputation”.

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