Lack of institutional trust and polarization are not just American problems. This could hamper the global response to the pandemic
Efforts to bolster the flow of credible global health information could face an uphill battle, according to a new Morning Consult survey that comes as the pandemic enters its third year and Congress balks at allocating more funding. to fight it.
Global health leaders and policymakers are calling for a more cohesive international approach to easing the crisis while pushing back against misinformation and aiming to restore trust in health authorities. And if they can do so, it will have major implications for current and future global health threats.
In the survey, adults from 18 countries had differing opinions on whether it is easy or difficult to talk about COVID-19 with those who disagree with them, and there was a wide range in how much they trust institutions and how they get their response related to the pandemic. news.
“COVID has shown us that a weakness in any capacity, such as trust in government or public trust, can be catastrophic for how a country responds,” said Jessica Bell, senior policy director. and global biological programs at the Nuclear Threat Initiative, where she helps lead work on its Global Health Security Index, which tracks international preparedness for pandemic threats.
Several countries are divided on where they get their information on the pandemic
The survey shows where the public first turns for information about COVID-19. In Japan, for example, 68% of adults say they check news outlets most often, compared to 34% in the United States. Another 43% of Americans turn to government officials or healthcare providers and about a quarter rely on family, friends or social media, compared to 12% and 20% among Japanese adults, respectively.
Only 1 in 3 Americans rely on the media for most information about COVID-19
Adults were asked where they get the majority of their information about the pandemic
International surveys conducted March 1-13, 2022 with representative samples of approximately 1,000 adults each, with unweighted margins of error of +/- 3 percentage points. US survey conducted March 1-3, 2022 of a representative sample of 2,210 adults, with an unweighted margin of error of +/-2 percentage points.
The findings also suggest people are overwhelmed with news, with adults around the world frequently saying they feel ‘frustrated’ and ‘worried’ when they get the latest on the pandemic, although many are also ‘optimistic’. , “confident” and “assured”. ”
“We really are in an environment of information overload,” said Dr. Georges Benjamin, longtime executive director of the American Public Health Association. “The fact that people get their information from other sources, not from experts, tells you that other sources and other groups are actually communicating with people.”
Many adults express skepticism about their country’s institutions
This sentiment is reflected in the apparent lack of trust in institutions identified in the survey. Morning Consult asked respondents how much they trusted various groups – such as local governments, the health care system, employers, news media and religious leaders – and ranked them as “trustful” or ” not trusting” whether they scored higher or lower. certain thresholds.
Adults in India, Singapore and China were the most likely to say they trusted institutions, while those in Argentina, Colombia and Italy were the most distrustful. (Surveys are conducted via the internet, so people without broadband access may not be fully represented, while those in authoritarian countries may feel less free to answer honestly.)
Lack of trust in authority figures is a problem because it “creates an environment in which misinformation can flow”, said Dr. Brian Castrucci, president and CEO of the Beaumont Foundation, a nonprofit public health organization.
India, Singapore and China most likely to say they trust institutions
Proportion of adults who said they do or do not trust at least five institutions in the survey, such as local governments, the health system, the media and religious leaders
International surveys conducted March 1-13, 2022 with representative samples of approximately 1,000 adults each, with unweighted margins of error of +/- 3 percentage points. US survey conducted March 1-3, 2022 of a representative sample of 2,210 adults, with an unweighted margin of error of +/-2 percentage points. The “trust” threshold for American adults was at least seven institutions.
The erosion of trust is not entirely unjustified, Castrucci said, citing the case of Florida surgeon general Dr. Joseph Ladapo, who recently recommended against COVID-19 vaccination for children and criticized face masks and other pandemic safety measures.
“Misinformation no longer comes from the dark recesses of our society,” Castrucci said. “It’s from the health officer’s office.”
Despite widespread support for COVID-19 measures, audiences in many countries struggle to discuss the pandemic
Despite mixed messages from health bodies and political leaders, particularly at the start of the pandemic, the global public is largely aligned on public health measures. In all countries, adults overwhelmingly agreed that measures such as vaccinating against COVID-19, wearing masks indoors, social distancing and staying home when sick are important ways to prevent them and their loved ones from getting sick.
Despite everything, the pandemic remains polarizing. In most countries surveyed, adults were more likely to say it is difficult than to say it is easy to have conversations about COVID-19 with people who hold opposing views, albeit at different degrees. In Italy, for example, an overwhelming 76% of adults said it was difficult to do so, compared to 46% in South Korea.
In 17 countries, less than half of adults say it’s easy to talk about COVID-19 with people who disagree with them
Adults were asked if it was easy or difficult to have conversations about COVID-19 with people who have different points of view
International surveys conducted March 1-13, 2022 with representative samples of approximately 1,000 adults each, with unweighted margins of error of +/- 3 percentage points. US survey conducted March 1-3, 2022 of a representative sample of 2,210 adults, with an unweighted margin of error of +/-2 percentage points. Figures may not total 100% due to rounding.
Benjamin said the findings show that world leaders should invest in public health messaging from the onset of health crises, including outreach to both trusted messengers and those who are not as receptive or even hostile to health crises. responsible.
“We have to sit down and figure out very deliberately how we want to get that message across in places where our messages may not be well heard,” he said.
It’s not too late to do so for COVID-19. In the survey, adults were split on when they thought it would no longer affect daily life. About 7 in 10 Indian adults, for example, said it would be in the next three months, while just 6% of Japanese adults said the same.
Meanwhile, in the UK, where a subvariant of the omicron strain has been increase cases of COVID-19adults could not reach a consensus: 30% said it would take more than a year before the pandemic no longer affects daily life, while 22% said it would be within the next three months and 29% said somewhere in between.
Even beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, however, Benjamin warned that other global health threats are on the horizon — and that leaders don’t have long to embrace the lessons of the past two years. to prepare for it.
“The next pandemic is not 100 years from now,” he said. “It’s just around the corner.”