On March 11, the World Health Organization declared the global outbreak of coronavirus a pandemic. In fact, the term pandemic is being used very regularly in the day, both in the media and on the street. But a group of experts believes that this word does not fit much with reality and that rather, that of Covid-19 it is a ‘syndemic’.
Richard Horton, editor-in-chief of the prestigious medical journal The Lancet, published a few days ago an article explaining why this concept should be used, which was coined in the 90s by the American doctor Merrill Singer.
We speak of ‘syndemia’ (a word that unites the concepts of synergy and pandemic), when “two or more diseases interact in ways that cause greater harm than the mere sum of these two diseases. “
According to Horton, the coronavirus is a ‘syndemic’ because SARS-CoV-2 interacts with non-communicable diseases (diabetes, cancer, heart problems, etc.) and also does so in a social and environmental context characterized by inequity or social inequality.
Merrill Singer himself, speaking to the BBC, explains that in the case of Covid-19, “we see a disproportionate rate of adverse outcomes in communities impoverished, low-income and ethnic minorities. “
Tiff-Annie Kenny, a researcher at Laval University in Canada, adds that diseases such as diabetes or obesity, risk factors for coronavirus, are more common in low-income people.
Kenny also explains that the case of Covid-19 is not comparable to that of other viruses: “There is growing evidence that the flu and the common cold are contra-synddemic. That is: the situation does not get worse. If a person is infected with both viruses, one of the diseases does not develop. “
These experts believe that if we start to consider the coronavirus as a ‘syndemic’, we must change the strategy: to stop the advance and the impact of the coronavirus it is essential look at social conditions that make some groups more vulnerable than others.
“We have to address the structural factors that make it harder for the poor to access health or a proper diet“, dice Merrill Singer.
Richard Horton goes a step further: “No matter how effective a treatment is or how protective a vaccine is, the search for a purely biomedical solution for Covid-19 will fail”.
“Unless governments design policies and programs to reverse deep disparities, our societies they will never be truly safe from Covid-19 “, Horton concludes.