As a medical anthropologist, I have a strong interest in epidemics and how people from different cultures deal with issues of health, healing, and education. Faced with the COVID-19 global pandemic, it is important to pay attention to how public health messages are conveyed to people in very diverse communities.
While scientists and doctors tend to get serious television and print media news coverage (and nonscientists like U.S. President Donald Trump spread fake news), there are other ways to spread prevention and containment messages that capture public attention and educate at the same time. The use of music and dance is one of those methods.
A current example is the Vietnamese government’s PSA on hand-washing techniques that has gone viral and sparked the hashtag #ghencovychallenge on multiple social media platforms.
Tom Benner, reporting for Al Jazeera, wrote about the PSA in “Going viral: Asia takes on the coronavirus with songs, dances.”
Vietnamese health officials and lyricist Khac Hung produced an animated music video called Jealous Coronavirus, based on the V-pop hit Ghen by singers Min and Erik. (Ghen means jealous in Vietnamese; the PSA song is entitled “Ghen Co Vy”, likening the coronavirus to a jealous rival.)
The song’s lyrics call on viewers to wash their hands thoroughly, not touch their faces, avoid large crowds, and “push back the virus corona, corona”. After Vietnamese dancer Quang Dang choreographed dance moves to the song, creating another viral video, dance challenges began popping up on TikTok, the hugely popular China-based video platform. It even caught the attention of John Oliver, host of HBO’s Last Week Tonight show, who joined in with his own on-air dance moves. “Vietnam made a song about washing your hands to prevent coronavirus infection, and it absolutely slaps,” Oliver said. “That’s a club banger right there!”
Containing the virus isn’t just the role of governments. Companies like the WERMA Signaltechnik Group have gotten employees involved with a hand-washing song.
Individuals play a key role as well. New Zealander Jordan Watson has a popular YouTube channel with 598,000 subscribers. On “How To Dad,” he dispenses information on parenting. He posted his own hand-washing tune, which currently has 55,772 views.
Iranian actor and comedian Danial Kheirikhah performed a dramatic hand-washing to Brahms’ “Hungarian Dances, No. 1.”
In India, which has the world’s second-largest population with multiple cultures and languages, it was interesting to see the government get police involved in a dance routine.
In Ghana, rapper Dr. Drilla freestyles a message about keeping social distance.
The Guardian reported on Uganda’s Bobi Wine contributing a catchy rhumba tune.
‘Bobi Wine, a Ugandan musician and rising political force, has joined the likes of footballer-turned-president George Weah in resorting to song to help stem the spread of coronavirus in Africa. Wine, whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi, worked with fellow artist Nubian Li to release a song on Wednesday laced with east Africa’s signature rhumba melodies about the importance of personal hygiene.
“The bad news is that everyone is a potential victim,” Wine sings. “But the good news is that everyone is a potential solution.”
The pair exhort people to regularly wash hands, keep a distance, and look out for symptoms such as a fever and cough.
Mexico uses cumbia to wash their hands to, as these nurses demonstrate.
Here in the U.S., singer-songwriter Neil Diamond has retooled his hit “Sweet Caroline” with new coronavirus lyrics.
Public health messaging can save lives if members of the public pay attention to it. In a world where people consume hours of commercial advertising and are constantly tuned in to social media, it’s important that we use those tools, methods, and platforms to get the word out.
Wash your hands!
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