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Stirling expert’s potentially life-saving advice to COVID-19 social workers

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A leading expert from the University of Stirling is providing potentially life-saving advice to social workers around the world as they tackle the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Professor Lena Dominelli, of the Faculty of Social Sciences, has been involved in delivering a range of advice and support since the beginning of the outbreak in Wuhan, China.

She has now produced guidelines for social workers on how to operate during a pandemic – advice that is being shared via the International Association of Schools of Social Work (IASSW), and the British Association of Social Workers (BASW).

Professor Dominelli is a renowned expert in humanitarian aid and social work in the wake of disasters, and has previously worked in locations struck by major humanitarian events. She is Chair of the IASSW’s Disaster Intervention, Climate Change and Sustainability Committee, and is also Chair of the BASW’s Claiming Social Work’s Place in Emergencies and Disasters special interest group.

Her experience includes engaging with various Chinese government agencies to help develop their response to earthquakes, following the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake in Sichuan Province. She has also recently co-authored research into effective facemask use for protection from volcanic ashfall.

China response

Early in the COVID-19 outbreak, Professor Dominelli helped Chinese colleagues set up an online helpline for concerned social workers in the country. Through this, she delivered online discussion groups and seminars, providing social workers with advice on minimising risk to themselves while caring for those with the virus. The sessions covered the availability of protective measures and effective facemasks, guidance on how to properly fit them, and a consideration of possible substitutes when masks or protective overalls are not available.

Professor Dominelli said: “I set up the virtual helpline after a number of colleagues in China got in touch with me, seeking advice on aspects of the COVID-19 outbreak. While China’s overall response to the outbreak has been relatively effective in managing its spread, there remain elements where I have been able to offer support and advice.

“China was the first country to experience the COVID-19 outbreak and health professionals and social workers there have been incredibly brave in seeking to contain it, and treat and monitor those with the virus. I’m pleased to have been able to play a small part in helping social workers to mitigate the risks to themselves and others.

“There are many, apparently small, considerations which may help fight the virus while protecting those doing so. For example, choosing locations for handing out items such as facemasks, food, and medicine that avoid large groups of people congregating.

“However, having social workers distribute these to individual homes heightens the risk to workers if they come in close proximity to carriers. So, leaving goods on the doorstep may be a useful strategy.

“Those working outside on the streets, in the absence of protective overalls, can wear an outer layer of clothing that can be removed outdoors before they enter their own homes to safeguard family members. Using gloves, disinfectant wipes, and washing hands often whenever around potentially infected surfaces may also safeguard health.

“An outbreak of the nature of COVID-19 raises many questions, to which there are rarely easy answers. This makes sharing experiences and knowledge as widely as possible through the internet essential.”

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