Tackling COVID-19: Dr Sharath Srinivasan

Dr Sharath Srinivasan

“Without trust, we don’t flatten the curve,” says Sharath Srinivasan, whose work in developing countries has given him an acute insight into how people’s worldviews and perspectives affect who and what they choose to trust. Through a new communications tool he’s helping to engage communities in Somalia so that COVID-19 risks are communicated effectively and rumours are quashed.

I’ve spent most of the last few years in Kenya and eastern Africa. When I wasn’t there, I was usually scampering back and forth between the Alison Richard Building on Cambridge’s Sidgwick site and King’s College, somehow covering my daily steps quota. Now I’m working at the kitchen table, my son’s desk in his room, or the bedroom. I’m missing the study we never had!

I work on the ‘Risk Communications and Community Engagement’ part of the global pandemic response. This is about understanding the experience of the virus from a community perspective, then delivering trusted and effective messaging to support healthy behaviours as well as communicating feedback to public health actors and authorities.

My own expertise lies in understanding citizen-authority relations in developing countries, and how citizens engage with and hold to account decision-makers in policy-making and service delivery. Over the years I’ve also worked on innovations using media and communication technology to engage with and hear from hard-to-reach populations, and derive rapid social insights from large volumes of local language textual data. My work led to the spin-off Africa’s Voices Foundation, a non-profit I cofounded, based in Kenya. The team deploys our novel method combining local language radio and a free SMS channel to deliver governance and social change programmes.  

As soon as COVID-19 hit, we were engaging populations in Kenya and Somalia. Two years ago, I was supported by the Wellcome Trust and UK DFID to evaluate the use of our interactive radio method for rapid social insights in health crises, as part of a global rethink following the West African Ebola outbreak. We’re now using this method and delivering insights to the wider national and international COVID-19 response.

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Reproduced courtesy of the University of Cambridge


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