Is Covid 19 a syndemia? Here’s what it means and the differences with the pandemic

The whole world has been grappling with the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus pandemic for more than a year and a half now. For experts, however, the most correct term to describe the situation we are experiencing is another: syndemia. What is it about? And what is the difference between pandemic and syndemic?

This less popular word indicates a situation in which there are interactions between biological and social elements that constantly alter and modify health conditions and conditions, sometimes increasing people’s susceptibility to possible harm.

The differences between pandemic and syndemic


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The term pandemic indicates the spread of an infectious agent that can infect anyone and anywhere with the same speed and severity. In the case of syndemia, things get complicated, because it becomes necessary to take into account the impact of other diseases and environmental or socio-economic differences. In this context, the disadvantaged segments of the population are at greater risk of diseases such as obesity, diabetes, cardio-vascular and respiratory diseases, which can aggravate the consequences of Covid.

The origin of the term

The term syndemia was invented by anthropologist Merrill Singer and has been used by many other scientists over the years. The approach to the fight against the disease it brings with it allows to study its diffusion and evolution more effectively within a specific social, political and historical context. Only by taking into consideration all the elements it becomes possible to develop effective strategies against diseases such as Covid-19.

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Emilio Gianicolo: “Germany is struggling with a syndemic”

During a recent interview with “Il Fatto Quotidiano”, the epidemiologist Emilio Gianicolo declared that “Germany is grappling with a syndemic”. The expert works at the University of Mainz and has witnessed the deterioration of the situation with his own eyes in recent weeks. “The incidence has been growing steadily since September, but there are differences between the various areas. In Bavaria and Saxony the situation is very bad, but some regions, such as Rhineland-Palatinate, where I am, have better data than those of the Italian north-east ”. Speaking of what went wrong, the expert explained that the answer must be sought in the vaccination campaign. “One issue to be addressed is what are the categories of people who have not been vaccinated. Our study shows greater resistance to vaccination in the most disadvantaged socio-economic categories. We have a public health problem in reaching certain sections of the population for which vaccination is not a priority. We know, for example, that intensive care is mainly occupied by people with a migrant past. We are talking about a syndemic born in the interaction between pandemic and socio-economic distress “.

Brusaferro: “Well-being is inseparable from economic growth”

Silvio Brusaferro, the president of the Istituto Superiore di Sanità, also recently spoke about the difference between a pandemic and a syndemic. “We call it a pandemic, but in reality it is a syndemia, a new term which means that we are in a situation where there are interactions, between biological and social elements, which continually alter and modify the states and conditions of health and which can increase people’s susceptibility to possible harm or even worsen their health. It is precisely this interaction that leaves us a very important lesson for the present and for the future, just as we have seen that health, the well-being of the individual and the community are inextricably linked and every individual choice also impacts that of the community and vice versa. Furthermore, health, well-being and economic growth are closely linked “.

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Brusaferro explained that the syndemia “must be managed in neighborhoods, in families, in homes”. “We know that we will never be completely safe until the whole planet is safe.” Speaking of adhering to the measures that serve to contain the circulation of the virus, Brusaferro stressed that “this has to do with awareness and trust in the scientific method and in institutions. The role of education in this sense is fundamental, as is that of technology and science ”.