1ECOHOST, Department of Health Services Research and Policy, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London, UK
2Dipartimento di Analisi delle Politiche e Management Pubblico, Università Bocconi, Milan, Italy
In this commentary, we review the growth of populist politics, associated with exploitation of what has been termed fake news. We explore how certain words have been used in similar contexts historically, in particular the term “enemy of the people,” especially with regard to public health. We then set out 6 principles for public health professionals faced with these situations. First, using their epidemiological skills, they can provide insights into the reasons underlying the growth of populist politics. Second using their expertise in modelling and health impact assessment, they can anticipate and warn about the consequences of populist policies. Third, they can support the institutions that are necessary for effective public health. Fourth they can reclaim the narrative, rejecting hatred and division, to promote social solidarity. Fifth, they can support fact checking and the use of evidence. Finally, they should always remember the lessons of history, and in particular, the way that public health has, on occasions, collaborated with totalitarian and genocidal regimes.
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