Focus on people

Neuruppin, 25 July 2020

BMBF-funded research project at Brandenburg Medical School (MHB) explores social health in times of lockdown due to Corona pandemic. Guest commentary by Ulrike Gawande (Ruppiner Anzeiger)

How has the lockdown in the context of the Corona pandemic affected the social health of the general population? This is the core question underlying the “CoronaCare” project at the Brandenburg Medical School (MHB) in Neuruppin, one out of 90 corona-related research projects funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research BMBF with a total of € 45 million. A share of € 425.305 goes to Prof. Dr. Christine Holmberg and her team at the MHB Institute of Social Medicine and Epidemiology.

What exactly is behind CoronaCare? Who is to benefit from results of this study? The objective, so Prof. Holmberg, is to develop guidelines for politicians, communities or employers on how to maintain social health if a future pandemic should lead to comparable forms of social distancing. She hopes to present the findings of her study to the expert community as early as next summer. Until then she and her team of four are going to interview people all over Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the Magdeburg Institute of Social Medicine. They want to know how people have experienced the lockdown and how they deal with the insecurities and risks involved.

Humans are social beings

“Humans are social beings. The core question is how they cope with the loss of social contacts,” so Prof. Holmberg (51). She is convinced that social distancing shakes people “to their core”. But individuals cope in different ways. This is why the selection of approximately 80 people to be interviewed not via questionnaires but in free conversation will be as diverse as possible: “We plan to display the entire spectrum of experiences.” Ten nursing professionals and ten care-dependent people will be among the participants. The rest is to comprise all age groups, singles and family members, a variety of professional groups, people who worked from home or worked shorter hours. Data collection will last until spring next year, and evaluation is scheduled to be completed in summer 2021.

How did Corona-induced strategies affect daily life? Which social and interpersonal frictions ensued? Which methods were found to cope with restrictions? These and many other questions will be presented in the interviews. According to Christine Holmberg, other formats will be used to supplement the compilation of data. About 20 persons from the wider context of the MHB started in March to record their activities during the lockdown in videos, diaries or photos. “We documented our daily life”, so Prof. Holmberg who has a postdoctoral teaching qualification in Public Health. “We want to understand possible coping strategies in a pandemic, and we want to identify areas and situations where people need assistance.”

Pandemic – a general social issue

From a medical point of view, so Holmberg, Germany has weathered the crisis well so far: “But we are not sure why exactly. Our country obviously has an efficient public health system and a strong structure of basic medical care, although a cross-linking of both parts is still problematic in many respects.” As to the debate on regionally different strategies to fight Corona, Holmberg has a clear position: “I am astonished to hear the criticism. In my view, there is an urgent need for differentiated response to locally different circumstances.”

She believes that the highly complex issue requires consideration of many aspects in addition to physical health or the economy: “The pandemic concerns the entire society. We will need to re-think supply structures, for example in nursing homes, mass accommodations and all facilities where people live in cramped conditions, in order to prevent hotspots of Corona outbreaks. This is an area where CoronaCare can make a valuable contribution.”