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Good information ‘critical’ in virus crisis

Associate Lecturer Medical Laboratory Science Josephine Muthami.
Associate Lecturer Medical Laboratory Science Josephine Muthami.

A Charles Darwin University pathology academic with experience of mass disease outbreaks in Africa says “the right information … in the right language” is critically important in times of medical crises.

Associate Lecturer Medical Laboratory Science Josephine Muthami said people must receive clear advice about what to do if they get sick.

“They need the right information in the right format and in the right language,” Ms Muthami said.

“Here in the Northern Territory, where 20% of Australians do not speak English, it is very important that the Department of Health uses interpreters to get the messages out.

“Any disease that has a mortality of more than 1% is a deadly disease. We all have to help each other.”

Ms Muthami, who worked as a general pathologist in her native Kenya during cholera and anthrax outbreaks, said some people turned to superstition or believed in conspiracy theories in the absence of reliable information.

“Some believe a disease is the result of biological warfare or that it comes from God who wants to eliminate a segment of society.

“Epidemics can bring out the worst in people.”

Ms Muthami said she believed Kenya would find it difficult to contain COVID-19 because people were not able to self-isolate. They work for a day, get paid at the end of the day, and buy food on the way home.

“That’s how they live so it’s not possible to self-isolate,” she said.

“In Australia containing the virus should be easier because many people have supplies, which means they can self-isolate.

“Rapid testing is already available, and a COVID-19 vaccine is being tested in many universities worldwide although one will probably not be available for at least six to 18 months.”

Ms Muthami and her family moved to Darwin last year for better education opportunities. She has a Bachelor of Surgery and Medicine, a Master of Medicine in Pathology and has an interest in anatomical pathology, forensic pathology, cytopathology and histopathology. She said she hoped to undertake a PhD in tumour pathology focusing on gastrointestinal stromal tumours.

In addition to her role at CDU, she is a Swahili interpreter in Darwin.