Q&A with author Ben Gallo
Ben Gallo, MD23, and a team of Latinx med students, faculty, PhDs, and physicians, came together last week to elucidate the alarming response of the Nicaraguan government in the face of coronavirus. The article was published in The Lancet Global Health on April 6, 2020. Read the article here!
Q: What inspired you to write this article?
A: I am from Nicaragua, and given the privileged position that I am in (i.e. medical school, contact with faculty), I had to shed light on the Nicaraguan response to the pandemic specifically in academic circles. Very little had been said about the situation in international media, and nothing had been said in academic journals, so with that in mind, I was inspired to put this disastrous response to the pandemic on display for the scholarly community. In addition, I wanted to document in an academic journal how this regime continuously restricts access to healthcare as a mechanism of repression. In 2018, for instance, when protests were met with police crackdown, the government forced public hospitals to deny care to those who had been shot by the police. Medical professionals were terminated, medical students were fired, and so on. These specific crimes have been labeled as “crimes against humanity” by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and have remained in impunity. This is an extension of the theme that we have seen in recent years, but now this is genocide by virus.
Q: While the article was published in a scholarly journal, it has been distributed widely to scientists, news sources, and civilians alike. Can you describe the impact of your article thus far?
A: Scholarship can go a long way. We’ve already seen a tangible impact with the paper including: (1) PAHO changing its official position about Nicaragua’s handling of the pandemic roughly 24 hours after the mass circulation of this document, (2) citations in multiple sources including Human Rights Watch, France 24, local non-government news outlet (of which there are only 2, and they operate on YouTube because the government has confiscated their spaces). The paper puts Nicaragua and the organizations responsible for guiding countries in the pandemic “on the spot”.
Q: How do you predict Nicaragua will respond to COVID-19 moving forward?
A: While PAHO has changed its position (i.e. they were extremely complacent with the government), the government will not budge. The exact reason for why they will continue to behave this way is not known, but we are certain that this is a politically calculated strategy. We think that the government will continue to falsify testing data, restrict access to care, report inconsistent numbers, encourage further community transmission, and deny any responsibility. Possibly, they’d like to eventually hit a certain number of infected citizens to use this as a pretext for requesting monetary aid and the lifting of sanctions. The Vice President, wife of President, and the National Police, for example, are sanctioned by the US.
Q: How can global health workers in the US contribute to public health efforts in Nicaragua or other struggling countries?
A: Global health workers can do the following: connect with Nicaraguan physicians to share scientific and clinical findings on COVID-19, raise awareness, and put pressure on major humans rights and health organizations. Visibility is key.
Q: Can you tell us what was your writing process like, from idea to publication in an esteemed journal?
A: We produced this in 48 hours. I assembled an interdisciplinary team of mostly Latinx co-authors because we wanted to hit every possible angle. The diversity of background and expertise on our team was an enormous factor in earning a spot in The Lancet Global Health. We had 4 Latinx medical students from 2 different medical schools, 1 incoming medical student who had volunteered in Nicaragua, 1 PhD in virology (Dr. Thais Mather), 1 PhD in Organizational Psychology and Fellow of the Central American Healthcare Initiative in Costa Rica, 1 PhD in Latin American History (who is Nicaraguan), 2 Global EM Physicians from Brown, 1 Honduran CT surgery resident from Duke, and 1 lawyer who specializes in health justice and public health (Professor Elizabeth Tobin-Tyler). We communicated efficiently, agreed upon a common goal, and worked as fast as we could!
Ben is an international student from Managua, Nicaragua. His goal as a future physician is to build bridges between the world of advanced medicine and Latin America through collaborative research and interdisciplinary scholarship, data sharing, sustainable relief strategies, and improvements in regional medical education and training.