The matter of effective communication has long been a bulwark against those who seek to misinform and manipulate. But an effective communicator can also use his skills to convince an unsuspecting audience of an intended message, whether that message is true or false.
One only has to look at recent events in the capital of the United States to understand the double-edged sword that is communication.
Outgoing president Donald Trump, in an awkward and objectionable way, is an effective communicator who has used his skills to convince a sizeable portion of the American electorate to see the world through his abhorrent prism.
We make these statements of fact not to besmirch the efforts of any individual or group, but as an acknowledgement of the powerful effect of a communicator who knows how to get the message across to his target audience.
This is an important segue to an examination of our handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly the explosion of cases in the dying days of 2020 and in the New Year.
Our shock and worry at the rapid spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) have not yet subsided since the realization on Old Year’s Day that the island was significantly exposed and its citizens highly vulnerable to the viral illness despite all the assurances that like Olivia Pope, “It’s handled”.
Today, we learned during an extremely informative radio call-in programme that yes, Barbados was doing a fantastic job in controlling the spread of the virus over the past ten months.
We introduced protocols that were, for the most part, followed by the public. We secured needed personal protective equipment for our healthcare workers who are at risk on the front line. We also accessed thousands of testing kits from international institutions and some of our friends in the region to ensure we could adequately respond to the crisis.
But as world-renowned British virologist Dr. Brenden Larder, who has made Barbados his home for the past 20 years, pointed out today, the island has made a few miscalculations and communication errors. These, he argued, have made our current situation more difficult than it should have been.
Larder, is one of the world’s leading experts in the fields of HIV drug resistance and pharmacogenomics, his seminal work has been on resistance to the AIDS drug AZT while he worked as Head of Clinical Virology for global pharma company Glaxo Wellcome.
We learned today from Dr. Larder that he volunteered his vast expertise to the Government of Barbados in its COVID battle. According to the doctor, he is still waiting for a return call.
But there were some other takeaways from today’s discussion. Dr. Larder made the observation, in a most diplomatic way, that he was concerned about the “quality” of information reaching the public.
Some of those concerns centred around the classification of “community spread”, greater clarity on the “COVID clusters” and the interconnectedness between these clusters. Furthermore, the medical expert called for greater clarity on data he described as “sketchy”.
Offering his opinion on some next steps for the Barbados Government, Larder recommended immediate testing to uncover whether the highly infectious British COVID variant was circulating in Barbados.
If its presence is confirmed, then the national response would require an immediate adjustment. If it was not, then urgent steps, he argued, should be taken to shut down flights from the United Kingdom, as other countries have done, until a handle on the situation can be achieved in the UK.
Larder also advised that while the current vaccines are effective against the British variant of the disease, there is concern about their effectiveness against the South African variant.
Larder and the Barbados Association of Medical Practitioners (BAMP) have expressed concern regarding the level and quality of communication coming from Government, and it appears some people have now taken notice.
We are therefore pleased that Prime Minister Mia Mottley is now including BAMP as a special partner in the COVID fight. The BAMP president is now part of the special COVID Communications Team and we welcome this.
The fact that Prime Minister Mottley admitted that effective communication has been the achilles heel of the entire COVID-19 process is also a welcome step.
We, however, are forced to express our concern about assigning a deeply political figure in Ambassador Elizabeth Thompson to the communications team. She is an absolutely fantastic communicator but the COVID-19 battle, Prime Minister, has to be seen as apolitical.
We also seek a pledge that this newly formed Communications Team will be transparent, providing full and accurate information without the political filters. It is only through this, that the team will secure the credibility it requires from the Barbadian public.