We’re now embroiled in the COVID-20 “syndemic,” says a provocative commentary in Disaster Medicine and Public Health Preparedness.
Syndemics are clusters of multiple diseases that exacerbate each other and are often fueled by socioeconomic details like poverty and health disparities. James J. James, MD, PhD, MHA, the former director of the American Medical Association’s Center for Public Health Preparedness and Disaster Response, argues that while the epidemic began as a singular virus with public health officials aiming to contain and mitigate it, this is no longer the case:
- Collateral damage from social isolation and school and business closures is enormous, resulting in a domino effect of problems such as mental health struggles and stopped treatments.
- Some populations, such as elderly, Black, and poor communities, are much more vulnerable to severe and lethal outcomes, and those communities require interventions far beyond what the medical community can provide.
- COVID-20 is a large-scale crisis that is deeply enmeshed in social and environmental factors. Simply containing and mitigating the virus is no longer an option, nor is it likely that a potent vaccine will be provided to much of the world’s population.
James notes that infection is now so widespread that perhaps we should consider the virus to be chronic and endemic, much like HIV/AIDS, and approached as such.
James hopes that a name change to COVID-20 will damper the sharp fear born of the early days of COVID-19 into a more rational discussion of ongoing risks, behaviors, and responses, as well as nudge media to stop reporting COVID-19 cases as raw numbers, which he says does not adequately convey the context.