Letter from SMA President & Board on COVID-19

Dear fellow medical anthropologists,

The Board had already begun the process of rethinking how it can support SMA members as they face global climate disruption, economic precarity, and other issues. And now COVID 19 has changed the timetable and greatly upped the stakes.

All of our lives are being transformed by the pandemic, each in different ways. Some of us need to sustain multiple ongoing obligations via online formats, even as we face expanded obligations to family members, friends, and neighbors, and, in some cases, face particular COVID-19-related health and economic challenges. SMA’s student members are facing potentially even more drastic economic precarity and the need to rapidly revamp carefully-crafted plans for doctoral projects. Graduate students who planned to begin doctoral projects in this summer or fall face challenges—which may include disruptions in funding as well as the need to massively revise research projects—that could have long-term implications. Other SMA members are clinicians who are confronting the overwhelming difficulties of caring for patients and planning for the waves that are likely to appear shortly, even as they know that infrastructures fall short and that they are among the most vulnerable to infection.

At the same time, we are medical anthropologists. This is one of those moments when the perspectives that we have developed over decades have so much to offer. Conversations with colleagues over these past weeks have revealed the amazing responses that medical anthropologists have offered—transforming classes into COVID-19 research stations, shaping policy debates and local responses, providing responsible and informed interventions in media debates, and finding creative ways of offering forms of support and solidarity in the face of physical isolation and biological vulnerability. To take just one of many recent examples, Kristen Hedges and Deon Claiborne of the Anthropological Responses to Health Emergencies SIG sponsored a AAA Webinar that had 381 participants from 41 countries, the most in AAA history (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7JcwpDz3DFc&feature=youtu.be).

The SMA Board wants you to know that we treasure our community of medical anthropologists now more than ever. We will help in any way possible, even as we quite aware of the limitations we all face. One concrete step that we are creating a Listserv, which should be up and running shortly, that will enable medical anthropologists more broadly to share with each other the efforts they are undertaking to:

  • transform teaching online
  • redesign courses and public programming, including making available materials (including videos, PowerPoint presentations, and the like)
  • find resources to support students and colleagues facing greater economic and employment precarity
  • provide guidance to policymakers and practitioners
  • contribute to debates unfolding in traditional and social media
  • collaborate in organizing webinars and other events and letting other medical anthropologists know how to participate in them
  • support SIGs as they find ways to use their special foci in advancing knowledge of and intervening into the pandemic and actions being taken to confront it.

We will continue to use the AAA Communities platform as well to help us exchange ideas and ways of supporting one another.

The AAA is continuing with plans for the November meeting in St. Louis, even as it has extended deadlines for submitting proposals and is creating a robust virtual component. The SMA Board is considering what the best mechanism might be to ensure that we will be able to exchange ideas and friendship in November. We have decided to press ahead with the prize and award competitions, continuing to support our members and celebrate their work even as other forms of symbolic and financial capital are disrupted. We are in the process of extending deadlines for nominations, so please keep an eye on the SMA Awards webpage (http://www.medanthro.net/about/sma-awards/) for updates.

Several years ago, during an MAQ Board meeting, our distinguished editor Vincanne Adams suggested that with global warming “it’s all hands on deck.” Now, with COVID 19, we are going to need each other more than ever. We have summarized here the ideas we discussed at our recent (virtual) Spring Board Meeting, and they are just the beginning. Please let us hear from you as to how we can support each other during the coming weeks and months; we will be opening up a forum to collect and amplify your responses.

In solidarity,

SMA officers, board members, ex-officio members, staff, and volunteers