Understanding how we engage with health information during an epidemic

In 2020, in the midst of a pandemic that the world is trying to make sense of while living through it, STBY conducted two research projects on the impact and relationship with health and science around Covid-19 for the Wellcome Trust.  STBY recently became part of Wellcome’s research agency roster. The Wellcome Trust is a research-charity based in London, and is supporting global research and development to tackle Covid-19. Our research partnership led us to investigate the role of trust in health and science during an epidemic, as well as the engagement of children and young people with areas of health.

First research project: How do we begin to understand the role of trust in a pandemic?

For the first research project for Wellcome, our goal was to investigate the role of trust in health and science during an epidemic or outbreak. To do this, we conducted research to unpack learnings from previous epidemics like Ebola, Zika and Measles while also looking into the current pandemic of Covid-19. The World Health Organisation has declared the Covid-19 outbreak a pandemic in March 2020. Vulnerability to the Covid virus is especially high for certain groups of people. Different countries continue to address the pandemic with local and national crisis response efforts. We partnered up with local researchers in Brazil and South Africa to help us zoom into academic literature, local stories and investigate the cultural contexts of how the epidemics were experienced. The local perspectives helped us identify the vulnerable groups in different regions and understand the types of vulnerabilities and risks associated with different groups and locations.

Digging in deeper, we attempted to reveal the levels of trust or distrust of those affected and at-risk communities that have an impact on outbreak management. Trust is a big factor in how people and communities will adopt prevention measures, stop transmission, learn signs and symptoms and tackle misinformation. The local research helped reveal the nuance of how trust is affected by different factors like local politics, socio-economic background, access to health services and cultural traditions. Response efforts and health messages need to be contextually relevant and tailored to the needs and circumstances of a community.

Second research project: How do young people engage with health information?

Children and young people are finding or creating opportunities to become more involved in big health issues like mental health, infectious disease and planetary health. These are issues they care about and they have the desire to use their voice for positive change. In our second research project for Wellcome, we conducted foundational research to reveal and understand the engagements of young people with health and science information in different areas of the world including Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa, Middle East, and UK and Europe, with a focus on digital platforms. This project was initiated by Wellcome and Unicef in a collaboration to explore how children and young people can play a greater role in informing, using, and trusting health and science research.

Our research identified how young people are using activism and bottom-up approaches for creative and innovative solutions to address health issues. During the pandemic of Covid-19, young people are feeling isolated but are maintaining engagement with health information. Though worried about misinformation, many young people are helping to share health facts with the wider community on how others can stay safe as well as care for their mental health. The levels of engagement vary in different country contexts and communities, in part as digital literacy or access is not equal for all. It is important to identify the types of different sources that are trusted by young people and where they might seek information first if it’s not science or the health sector. In identifying how people relate to their sources of information we can better understand their values, attitudes and perceptions around health and science. Young people deeply care about health issues within their communities and want to have a leading role in tackling them. 

Read more on what Wellcome is doing to tackle Covid-19 here.

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