HEALTH INEQUITIES – Social determinants of health: the role of effective communication in the Covid-19 pandemic in developing countries

by Ochega A Ataguba, John E Ataguba

Global Health Action, 13 July 2020 (Open access)


The Covid-19 pandemic has affected many countries with increasing morbidity and mortality. Interestingly, many of the actions and policies adopted in countries are linked to the social determinants of health. Social determinants of health are critical determinants of health and health inequalities that are not directly within the health sector. Policies such as social distancing, good hygiene, avoiding large gatherings, cancelling of social and sports events, using personal protective equipment, schools and restaurants closure, country lockdown, etc. are not necessarily within the health sector but have been promoted to prevent and attenuate Covid-19 infection rates significantly. The social determinants of health that serve to reduce morbidity will forestall or substantially reduce the pressure on many weak health systems in developing countries that cannot cope with increased hospitalisation and intensive health care.

This paper argues that one of the most critical social determinants of health (i.e. effective crisis and risk communication), is crucial in many developing countries, including those with fewer confirmed coronavirus cases. We note that the effectiveness of many of the other social determinants of health in reducing the burden of the Covid-19 pandemic hinges on effective communication, especially crisis and risk communication. Although many countries are adopting different communication strategies during the Covid-19 crisis, effective crisis and risk communication will lead to building trust, credibility, honesty, transparency, and accountability. Regional, cultural, linguistic and ethnic diversity are essential considerations in ensuring effective crisis and risk communication. Developing countries facing a significant poverty and disease burden cannot afford to handle the burgeoning of Covid-19 infections and must take preventive measures seriously. Thus, we submit that there is a need to intensify actions involving social determinants of health and ensure that no one is left behind when communicating crisis and risk to the population to address the Covid-19 pandemic.

VISUAL: WHO Video: Fast Facts on Health Inequities, 30 June 2020