Pandemic shaming can backfire-here’s a better way – My programming school


Man wears mask
Nopphon Pattanasri / EyeEm

With the anticipation of the holiday season continuing and COVID-19 widely deteriorating, many of us face the same gut-wrenching decision: to assemble or not to assemble? Do we relax in familiar rituals with family and friends – or should we limit the celebration to isolation relative to our COVID-19 bubble?

During an epidemic that has already claimed more than 1.4 million lives worldwide, the safest strategy is, undeniably, to stay away from celebrations with people outside our immediate homes. But not everyone values ​​safety more than social connection – and public shaming and blanket demand for blankets can backfire. How, then, can we balance our safety and conscience, to ensure that we can save as many lives as possible?

A concept developed by and for people who inject drugs.

Known as “harm reduction”, the idea emerged during the AIDS crisis in the early 1980s and has since become an international movement in public health, taught everywhere from medical schools to syringe exchange programs goes. While the term is now ubiquitous in the media, its grassroots is rarely accepted in the drugs that communities use, which can teach it.

A guiding concept is that shame and force are ineffective ways to try to change behavior, especially when people feel that related activity is important to their emotional survival. At best, the difficult strategy keeps the behavior underground. With harm reduction, in contrast, solutions are not imposed from above, but rather arise from a respectful cooperation between the affected people and health workers.

For example, consider the syringe exchange program where the idea of ​​loss reduction was first developed. The first needle exchange was conceived and performed by people who injected drugs themselves in 1981, before HIV was not even identified. Last year, in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, Nico Adriens founded an activist organization he called the “junkie union” with the idea of ​​reclaiming the stigma as other marginalized groups.

In response to an outbreak of hepatitis B, an infectious liver disease, the group began providing users with clean needles – and public health officials funded their work. Since Adrian himself had injected the drug, he knew what outsiders had not done – which needle sharing was not a pleasant “ritual”, but a last resort. He immediately saw that people would have changed if they had a choice. Such knowledge is often necessary to formulate an effective public health strategy.


The basic idea behind harm reduction is that policy or individual actions should aim to do the least possible harm, recognizing that people will not always follow the priorities of health officials – or even to their own priorities. , for this case. But life can be saved and improved by reducing the harm associated with health decisions. In 1986, the UK adopted the needle exchange from the Dutch to fight AIDS and people using drugs and public health officials there began to spread and spread the broader idea of ​​harm reduction as a concept theory.

In the case of COVID-19, we already know that many of us will continue to socialize despite the epidemic. This is fundamental to human biology: our brains need social interaction to relieve stress and often to experience bliss. Research published in Nature Neuroscience shows that we are really craving social interaction. In fact, these cravings are driven by the same circuitry as addiction, the difference being that the latter is essentially a harmful biological and psychological attachment to a drug rather than a person. And so, shame and stigma are unlikely to help, just as they don’t work to fight for drugs.

Instead, in order to help people protect themselves, it is important to say the harm reduction experts have in order to understand their goals and dreams, and not just implement our own priorities and values.

A related and important consideration is that risk communication should be respectful; People should be given the benefit of the doubt that they can digest information, take risks, and make choices for themselves. In the early days of the AIDS epidemic, many health officials argued that injectors could leave the only way to manage their risk altogether. Conversely, harm reductionists found that treating people as if they were able to make better decisions actually enabled them to do so. For example, the study combines participation in needle exchange with improving health, decreasing the number of injections, and increasing treatment. Indeed, since syringe service programs and other measures to expand needle access were introduced for the first time in the U.S. , So the rate of HIV infection among injection drug users


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