COVID-19 Health

Is COVID-19 a call for humanity to evolve?

This is the second article from PlaHNet YP on humanity’s recovery following the COVID-19 pandemic. You can read the first, Reducing the Mental Health Burden of COVID-19, here. This piece was authored by Pearl Anne Ante-Testard, Kurt M. Mamisao, and Janice N. Averilla.

Charles Darwin was the first to postulate the theory of evolution persuasively. According to his theory, the individuals and species that are most likely to survive are those who can best adapt to a new environment. From a single-celled organism, we have further grown to what we are now. As humans, we have changed with our brains according to what a particular situation requires of us. Undoubtedly, we have transformed into a species with a brain capable of processing complex information, emotions, and environmental stimuli, and interpreting all of them simultaneously. It helped us form a conceptual understanding of the world around us.

With our evolution as an organism, our societies have also progressed with us. Unsurprisingly, societies have transformed depending on the challenges of the era — from Stone Age to Industrial Revolution to Neoliberalism in the beginning of the 19th century — civilisations have endured many difficulties in order to survive. Since then, we have given a lot of importance on economic growth despite the hazards of abolishing the balance in nature and waging wars amongst us. With our desire for greater things and economic developments as societies, we have slowly detached ourselves from nature.

Aerial shot of chimneys belching smoke, a result of human evolution.
Photo by Marcin Jozwiak from Pexels

We have seen natural calamities befall us due to the man-made changes we have done to the planet. We have cut down trees without replacing them, we have thrown non-biodegradable wastes into the oceans without thinking about the harmful effects, and we have largely depended on technological advances without considering the consequences of our actions. With urbanisation, we have chosen to transform enormous masses of forests to residential and agricultural lands. We have also relentlessly travelled through different modes of transportation such as planes, ships, and buses regardless of their contribution to massive carbon emissions.

With our detachment to nature, we have done collective actions that have ultimately led to the COVID-19 pandemic. Through research, we understood how COVID-19 came to be. It is highly due to a zoonotic spillover from wildlife trade in Wuhan, China. This happens when we destroy animal habitats, and the virus will eventually need a new host, and most often, it is us. This pandemic has shown us how connected we really are to nature. Whenever we disturb the Earth’s natural balance, it comes back to us in many forms — this time through a pandemic. Besides COVID-19, other diseases such as HIV/AIDS, Ebola, influenza, and MERS-Cov are caused by zoonotic spillovers. Advancements in medicine enabled us to survive these various diseases over the past centuries, and hopefully, it will be the same for COVID-19. However, we cannot depend on them all the time while waiting for the next outbreak. Our over-reliance on medicines such as antibiotics has caused one of the significant challenges of today — antimicrobial resistance.

During the emergence of COVID-19, the egoistic and capitalistic world that we built over the past centuries crumbled in an instant. We were forced to indefinitely abandon the life we were accustomed to and retreat to the confines of our homes. In the midst of this pandemic, perhaps we must rethink and ask whether this is nature’s way of telling us that it is time for us to evolve yet again. But what does it mean to evolve today? Does it mean we get to have larger brains or have superhuman strength and flying abilities? Certainly not. We believe that what nature calls for is an evolution of our human consciousness and thinking that will eventually change our behaviours. Perhaps it wants to awaken that part of us that have long forgotten our connection to nature.

a diagram showing the overlapping aspects of planetary health
Photo from PH Lab, Dr. Renzo Guinto MD DrPH

The Planetary Health paradigm can offer us this chance to evolve by reuniting humanity with nature. It is an emerging field which is conceptualised as “the health of human civilisation and the state of the natural systems on which it depends”. This paradigm shift from a human-centred society to a planet-responsible society can help bring about this needed change since the collective human consciousness has the ability to dictate the norms and standards across era and societies. If we take this crisis as a chance to evolve to a planet-responsible individual, our collective actions will eventually lead to the greater good of both humanity and our planet. We will become a society that understands and respects our interconnectedness with nature and all living things. We will strive for sustainable economic growth and create planet-sensitive technologies that will preserve the planet’s boundaries and integrity.

This evolution of our individual and ultimately, collective consciousness is needed if we want to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and survive in a post-COVID-19 society as human civilisation. Unfortunately, not all of us will evolve. Only those who are ready, able to adapt, and become what is called for, will. The question is, are you ready to evolve?


We would like to thank Professor Konstantinos C. Makris of the Cyprus International Institute for Environmental and Public Health for his mentorship.

Pearl Anne Ante-Testard, RN, MPH: PAAT is a PhD student in the MESuRS laboratory at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers (CNAM), Paris, France; and Unité PACRI, Institut Pasteur and CNAM, Paris France. She is also a Planetary Health Campus Ambassador 2020 of the Planetary Health Alliance, and co-founder of the PlaHNet ofYoung Professionals.

Kurt M. Mamisao: KMM is a freelance instructional designer, technical writer and learning management system administrator. He is a co-founder of the PlaHNet of Young Professionals.

Janice N. AverillaPhD: JNA is a licensed chemist and postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Internal Medicine — Hepatology and Gastroenterology at the University of Kansas Medical Center, Kansas City, USA. She is a co-founder of the PlaHNet of Young Professionals.


COVID-19: Risk Communication is Key

Umar Ibrahim, PhD, is the Chairman/Director of Health for Abubuwa Societal Development Initiative, Nigeria. In this post he discusses the importance of accurate and tailored risk communication in the context of COVID-19 management and control in Nigeria.

The outbreak of COVID-19 affects the global population in an unprecedented way. It affects both wealthy and poor countries – differently – causing them to struggle in its management. The situation demands trusted and effective risk communication mechanisms, targeting diverse audiences. Therefore, tailored and focused communication campaigns on the symptoms, basic hygiene and sanitation practice, among other risk management strategies, need to emerge from a trusted source in understandable language.

For example, information disseminated on social distancing in Nigeria, was broadly understood and widely accepted. This highlights the significance of effective health communication as an invaluable tool for COVID-19 prevention and control. Additionally, language barriers must be eliminated whenever health communication comes into the limelight. Lack of information in local languages, in some parts of the African region such as northern Nigeria, has left some sections of the population unaware of complex health issues. In this regard, understanding a message is central to its acceptance. As such, a radio jingle in Hausa language, the dialogue of the people in Bauchi State Nigeria, was aired to aid the understanding of COVID-19 prevention and control measures. 

Why is effective communication so important?

Using the best means of communicating health issues to the targeted communities raises their understanding and awareness levels. Targeted health communication needs to provide background and supportive information as well as improving public awareness on the emerging issues. Also, targeted communication keeps the population under focus informed on how to identify and report COVID-19 symptoms. Mixed experiences trail the COVID-19 prevention and control response in Nigeria, as a result of right and wrong information dissemination. These experiences should compel stakeholders to focus their attention on effective communication approaches that can help in understanding and acceptance of the disseminated messages, such as:

1. Audio/Visual:

A short video in combination with audio content or a simple video caption demonstrating practical COVID-19 preventive measures – or an audio clip explaining how basic hygiene is implemented. This will help in understanding the COVID-19 preventive techniques.

For example, this video on how to effectively wash hands is quick and easy to understand.

2. One-on-one campaigns:

Visiting residential quarters, business premises and other places of gatherings such as parks, markets, and garages among others, to meet people one-on-one, with clear messages on the COVID-19. Questions will also be entertained in such an approach. Those conducting the visits will need to wear appropriate protective clothing to ensure they do not contribute to the spread of disease.

3. Involvement of local champions:

There are certain people who are designated as local champions in every community. They become influential in their society by the virtue of their status, formally or informally. They are able to influence the decision of their community members. This type of people should be involved in delivering information on how to curtail the spread of COVID-19.

4. Evidence based information:

Targeted information should be built on fact, not fiction. The listeners may be laymen with no prior knowledge, in need of information on COVID-19 and as such could be anxious or emotional and ready to accept any information on their disposal. Therefore, any information to be given to them must be evidence based, and capable of promoting best practice.

5. Simple, clear and concise messages:

Complex issues should be presented using simple, clear, unambiguous and concise language, text or infographics. Doing that will make the message understandable within the intended context.

Good examples of infographic resources can be found here and here.

6: Targeted message:

The COVID-19 message should be customized in accordance to the targeted audience. For example, a message targeting young or inexperienced members of the community should be different from the ones targeting older or more experienced and knowledgeable members of the community. All members of the community should be able to understand what sources of information are to be trusted. Misinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic can spreads across media outlets at a galloping speed. Fake news can confuse people on what actions to take, and on how to protect themselves and their families. Fake news may be developed due to the lack of clear, accurate, and accessible information on COVID-19 in a language and format understood by the audience.

For a more detailed breakdown on managing risk communication and misinformation, please see this resource from Social Science in Humanitarian Action.

Managing misinformation

To counter the effect of misinformation on COVID-19, the following should be considered;

  • Fake news is frequently found in tabloid media and online. Therefore, only read news from reliable sources to ensure stories’ authenticity. Check news from other sources against more trusted outlets; if more trusted outlets are not reporting the same thing, the news is not yet confirmed.
  • Trusted friends also disseminate fake news, these can sometimes be the so-called educated ones. As such, always verify.
  • Accept only information that practically solves the issues in question.
  • Avoid information that does not come from a proven source.

To avoid the trap of COVID-19 untrusted sources, information should be sought from the following or similar sites:

For a more complete list of resources please see the Planetary Health Alliance COVID-19 Resource Pack, or jump straight to Resources for Researchers and Resources for Public Health Professionals.

Factual, accurate and easy to understand information can spread more quickly than the disease itself, helping to protect people and keep individuals and communities safe. Communication is an essential tool in the fight against COVID-19. You can find an in-depth Outbreak Communication Planning Guide from the WHO here.

risk communication is key during the COVID-19 outbreak
Campaigns Climate Sustainability

Make 2020 Your Year for Low-Impact Living

Low -impact living 2020: a reusable bamboo coffee cup on a wooden bench.

We’re in a climate emergency. The Earth is dangerously close to its tipping point in terms of being able to come back from the damage humans are causing to our ecosystems. The devastating bushfires in Australia are merely a taste of what countries may face in the coming decades if we don’t take steps to lessen the damage we are causing to the planet.

The climate emergency is a borderless issue – its effects will not be limited to the countries that don’t take it seriously. Global efforts are necessary to combat this global problem, and change needs to happen at every level. Countries need to be working together, governments need to be putting policies in place for their own countries, businesses need to commit to sustainability, and individuals need to make changes to their lifestyle to lessen their impact on the planet.

We’re starting at the bottom, with a campaign to get as many people as possible trying low-impact living in 2020.

What is low-impact living?

A low-impact lifestyle, or low-impact living, is pretty much what it says on the tin. You try to reduce the impact your lifestyle has on the environment. It’s fundamentally “reduce, reuse, recycle”.

Reduce what you take from the environment and the waste you produce.

Reuse as much as possible

Recycle what you can’t use any more.

Nobody lives a completely impact-free life, and nobody should expect perfection. But your lifestyle choices may have more of an impact on the environment than you realise. You can check your personal environmental footprint here.

Why do I personally need to try low-impact living?

Low-impact living shouldn't cost the Earth - and it might save you money in the long run.
Low-impact living shouldn’t cost the Earth – and it might save you money in the long run.

The UK government has committed to reducing emissions by at least 100% of 1990 levels by 2050, and to limit global temperature rise to as little as possible above 2°C. To do this, they’ve set 5-year carbon budgets that will run until 2032. Currently, we’re in the third budget, which runs from 2018-2022.

We’re doing OK at the moment. We’ve hit both our previous budgets and we’re likely to beat our target in this one. But we’re not going to hit the fourth target if we don’t make some major changes. The government has not put enough firm policies in place to reduce carbon emissions. Many of these policies involve changing the way individuals live their lives to reduce their impact on the environment. Everybody needs to get involved if we’re to have any hope of meeting our emissions targets.

We’re going to take a massive hit to our way of life if we don’t take more action now. The wildfires we’ve seen in recent years are just a fraction of what we can expect. More weather events like extended droughts will reduce the availability of food. Rising sea levels will flood low-lying coastal areas, forcing communities to surge inland. Sure, in the short term areas like the UK may see higher yields of food crops – but we don’t have the capacity to feed the parts of the world that would have been producing food had we not fried the Earth. And that period of productivity won’t last forever.

But you know all this. The question is: are you prepared to do something about it?

So how do I go low-impact?

Low-impact living might be as simple as changing the type of soap you use.
Low-impact living might be as simple as changing the type of soap you use.

It doesn’t have to be much to start with. Cut down on your plastic use, eat those leftovers instead of heading out for a meal, walk or take public transport rather than drive if you can. Nobody lives a truly impact-free lifestyle and it’s better to make small changes where you can than not doing anything at all.

The goal with low-impact living is to reach a circular economy:

Not depleting finite resources.

Recycling products at the end of their life cycle rather than throwing them away.

Extending the lives of those products to reduce the amount of energy needed to process them.

Most of the things that we can do to achieve low-impact living are easy enough, and come with the added bonus of saving you money in the long term. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Buy your produce loose and take a reusable shopping bag with you. Less packaging means less plastic to throw away. You can also choose exactly how much of something to buy if you can get it loose.
  • Switch to bar soap over liquid soap. Bar soaps use far less packaging and waste far less product per use than liquid soaps. They aren’t always as convenient, but they last longer and smell just as good!
  • Ditch the single-use bathroom products. Makeup wipes and cotton pads for skincare products are things you might use every day. You can get reusable cloths and use your hands to apply your skincare and you’ll cut down on waste in a big way. If you’re prepared to take the extra step, reusable menstrual products are widely available and easy to use.
  • Buy your electronics secondhand. Got your eye on a new phone? Check sites like eBay and Gumtree to see if there’s one on there – all too often people buy one new, don’t like it and sell it on at a hefty discount. It’s true you won’t get to pay it off monthly, but you’ll pay less than full price and your contract will be cheaper if it’s SIM-only. Plus, you’ll save one perfectly usable device from ending up in landfill and avoid the extra packaging you’d be dealing with buying it new.
  • Own a reusable cup – and use it. Single-use plastics and paper are everywhere. And while paper cups actually have a lower carbon footprint than ceramic mugs or reusable cups on a per-use basis, they still create waste that goes into landfill or takes energy to recycle. You need to use a reusable plastic or metal cup 20 times before it becomes more environmentally friendly than a paper cup – but we’d guess students will have reached that number of coffees by about Wednesday of every week anyway.
  • Switch to an eco-friendly search engine like Ecosia. We’ve posted before about Ecosia, and we’re going to keep plugging them because of the reforestation work they do. The campaign Royal Holloway on Ecosia has more information in case you need persuading.
  • Take public transport where you can, or walk. Public transport is better than cars, Walking or cycling is better than public transport. Some places may not have the best infrastructure in place for getting around in not-a-car, but if it’s available to you, use it. Oh, and take the train for long-distance domestic travel instead of an internal flight. Please.
Low-impact living: take public transport where you can.

We’ll be posting regularly about how you can change your lifestyle to reduce your impact on the Earth, so keep an eye out. And let us know your favourite ways to go low-impact in the comments below, on Facebook, or Twitter!

Events Planetary Health Alliance

InVIVO Planetary Health Meeting 2020

How does a low-carbon trip to Amsterdam to get involved with all things Planetary Health sound?

The 9th annual InVIVO Planetary Health Meeting will take place in Amsterdam from 18-20 June 2020. Pre-conference workshops will run from the 17th, and the Meeting is followed by a Public Planetary Health Festival from 19-21 June.

As the coordinating institution for Planetary Health Northern Europe, Royal Holloway is organising a group of students to attend the conference. Places are limited, so get in touch with us via email ASAP if you’d like to go!

RHUL students will have their travel, accommodation, and conference fees covered by travel grants (requires application). We’re aiming for this to be as environmentally low-impact as possible, so we’ll travel out by either train or minibus and will be staying at a campsite close to Amsterdam’s city centre.

We will be coordinating with students from other universities around the UK as well, so don’t worry if you’re not an RHUL student – get in touch anyway.

If you’re interested in sustainability, climate change, and the global impact humans are having this is an event you don’t want to miss!

Events Planetary Health Alliance

Event: Social Science for Planetary Health

Interested in this event but can’t attend in person? Watch the livestream here. The session will begin at 15.00 GMT, Friday 24 January 2020.

To launch the Planetary Health Alliance’s new Regional Hubs there will be a panel discussion on Friday 24th January 2020, hosted by Royal Holloway. The theme is Social Action for Planetary Health, and the panel will discuss the importance of social science in addressing the challenges we face from environmental change and what will be required to enact the societal transformation needed to safeguard Earth through the 21st century.

Panellists include leading academics and student activists from several universities, and the Chair is Dr Jennifer Cole, the Coordinator for the North European Hub. Come along to the Shilling Auditorium at Royal Holloway’s Egham campus to be part of the discussion.