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Hello, this is Annie Sparrow. I'm a public health specialist and I am here to advocate for kids' well-being in the middle of the pandemic. As Hippocrates said, do good and do no harm.

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Annie Sparrow,


Pandemic 101: do no harm

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Hippocrates refusing the gifts of Artaxerxes after he appealed for his help to cure an epidemic that was ravaging the Persian troops. (Credit: Wellcome Images)

“As to diseases, make a habit of two things—to help, or at least to do no harm."

Do no harm is popularly understood to be a tenet of clinical medicine, a soundbite from the Hippocratic Oath. Hippocrates’s most famous dictum refers specifically to disease outbreaks, and actually comes from the first book of his Treatise on Epidemics. A longer translation helps:

“The physician must be able to tell the antecedents, know the present, and foretell the future — must mediate these things, and have two special objects in view with regard to disease, namely, to do good or to do no harm.”

Twenty-five centuries later, the Covid19 pandemic puts Hippocrates’s advice in context, and the enormous harm caused by an internationally careless response makes his caution brutally clear.

Across the globe, one billion children are suffering extreme anxiety, enduring physical and mental trauma, and facing uncertain futures. Covid is amplifying and accelerating pre-existing pandemics of youth mental ill-health, gender-based violence, and child labor.

Without a vaccine or an effective testing strategy to identify contagious people in real time, shutdowns are the only option to suppress Covid, prevent hundreds of millions of infections, and save millions of lives, at the cost of economic prosperity, social devastation, political participation, mental health, and backsliding on development targets.

Annie Sparrow is a pediatric intensivist and public health specialist. She is an associate professor at Mount Sinai, a practising aid worker in Congo and Syria, advisor to the Director-General WHO and an advocate for marginalised and vulnerable children everywhere.

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This selection is proposed by the Geneva Science and Diplomacy Anticipator GESDA, working on anticipating cutting-edge science and technological advances to develop innovative and inclusive solutions for the benefit of the planet and its inhabitants.

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