Acknowledging Italy’s mistakes in the public health response to COVID-19

The Day of the Dead in Italy this year was not only a time of commemoration, but also of demanding justice for the lives lost to COVID-19. On November 2, 2021, members of the #Sereni Association (also known as Serene and Always United) demonstrated in Rome against institutional omerta (i.e. the law of silence) and for the re-establishment of a parliamentary committee to examine the management of the epidemic. This event follows 520 complaints lodged by the association 4 months earlier against the national government, the Ministry of Health and the administrators of the Lombardy region.

To understand the objectives of the association and the events that fuel its raison d’être, we must look at the beginning of the pandemic in Lombardy. Decision of the national government and the regional government of Lombardy not to create a so-called red zone around Alzano Lombardo and Nembro (blocking the entry and exit of the two municipalities) when COVID-19 was discovered in people late February 2020, would be directly responsible for the spread of the infection to other towns in the province of Bergamo, in particular the Seriana Valley, and then to all of Europe. How could a different public health response have stopped the COVID-19 epidemic in the province of Bergamo, which became famous in the spring of 2020 for the corpses piled up in hospitals, churches and cemeteries and transported by trucks soldiers to the crematoria?
The Lombard population was shocked by the events and the inconsistency of health and government authorities alongside an outdated and unimplemented pandemic plan.
2
Il pesce piccolo: una storia di virus e segreti.

They faced horror: relatives dying at home without treatment and alone in hospital, shortages of oxygen and ventilators, and confusion over the identification of cremated bodies. The Istituto Nazionale di Statistica called the events World War III.

3
A Third World War?

In response, civil society in Bergamo organized itself into a grassroots justice movement.

4
  • Alfieri C
  • Desclaux A.
  • Sams K
  • Egrotte M
Mourning while fighting for justice: the first months of the association NOI DENUNCEREMO, Bergamo, Italy.

The goals of the #Sereni association are to obtain truth, justice, reparation and dignity and to offer emotional support in response to pain, confusion and resentment for the families of the deceased and the community. at large. Many politicians and citizen activists have joined the movement.

The contribution of anthropologists to the documentation and analysis of the social and political effects of epidemiological events has been crucial
5
  • Sams K
  • Desclaux A.
  • Anoko J.
  • et al.
Mobilizing the Ebola experience to fight the plague in Madagascar and future epidemics.

for other infectious diseases (e.g. Ebola virus disease and AIDS) – for example in Africa, where networks such as the Anthropology of Emerging Epidemics Network (of which we are a member) have become essential in solving problems such as vaccine hesitancy, misinformation, and trust. Transdisciplinary research produces evidence on the actions of civil society associations, such as the Sereni association. This evidence is essential for institutions to identify and correct errors in the public health response, which are necessary to help communities prepare for future infectious threats, as recommended by WHO’s Community Preparedness Unit.

6
WHO
WHO COVID-19 Social Sciences in Outbreak Response. Community-based approaches to health emergencies: progress, gaps and research priorities.

We declare no competing interests. CoMeSCov members are listed in the appendix.

Additional material

The references

  1. 1.

    Valley nel virus.

    Underground Edizioni,
    Milano2020

  2. 2.

    Il pesce piccolo: una storia di virus e segreti.

    Feltrinelli Editore,
    Milano2021

  3. 3.

    A Third World War?

  4. 4.
    • Alfieri C
    • Desclaux A.
    • Sams K
    • Egrotte M

    Mourning while fighting for justice: the first months of the association NOI DENUNCEREMO, Bergamo, Italy.

  5. 5.
    • Sams K
    • Desclaux A.
    • Anoko J.
    • et al.

    Mobilizing the Ebola experience to fight the plague in Madagascar and future epidemics.

    Lancet. 2017; 390: 2624-2625

  6. 6.

    WHO COVID-19 Social Sciences in Outbreak Response. Community-based approaches to health emergencies: progress, gaps and research priorities.

Comments are closed.