During the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, students and young professionals from around the world have come together to form a global movement called #Students_Against_COVID, which is dedicated to bringing students and allies together to spread awareness about the severity of the virus. They strive to facilitate effective and socially responsible collaboration and innovation while working to champion scientifically-based principles.

U-M alum Alina Haque, media outreach coordinator of SAC, described how her sister, Marina Haque, a 2020 dual Medical Doctor and Master of Public Health candidate at the University of Michigan started the movement. On March 16, she tweeted asking students to share what they were doing regarding the COVID-19 crisis using the hashtag #Students_Against_COVID so people would be better able to connect.

“My sister started receiving more and more responses from student activists around the world who were eager to share and connect what they were doing to help with the COVID crisis,” Alina Haque responded. “One of the first persons to connect with her was a medical student from Greece, who helped bring in several more health care students around the globe. Together, they decided to make a platform for all students and allies to more effectively collaborate.”

In an email to The Daily, Marina Haque said her primary motivation for starting the movement is to spread knowledge and credible information. 

“The movement strives to champion science, foster inclusion, and support healthcare workers during this critical time,” Marina Haque wrote. “A lot of what we are seeing happening around us in the world is because people did not listen to scientists. A lot of people worldwide are dying, and now, more than ever, is the time to listen to scientists and quite frankly, keep listening to scientists.” 

Alina Haque said the platform first started as a simple WhatsApp group chat but quickly expanded as people began taking on new initiatives.

“Someone would say, ‘I’m really interested in helping with a mental health initiative,’ and they will make their own separate group chat and report back to a team of lead facilitators,” Alina Haque said. “And someone else will say, ‘I’m really interested in collecting personal protective equipment,’ and they will make their own group chat.”

All of these small groups fall under the umbrella of Students Against COVID. Currently, the group consists of more than 150 students and spans across more than 40 countries.

When Ana Sofia Mota, a final year medical student in Lisbon, Portugal, first joined SAC, she said she was surprised by both the scale of the movement and the amount of coordination involved.

“I was overwhelmed by how big it was,” Mota said. “I got into WhatsApp, and I see so many messages, and I was saying, ‘What’s happening? How can these people be so efficient?’ They are all so different, yet they work together so well.”

Alina Haque said the main goal of SAC is to spread awareness about the severity of the crisis and offer educational information regarding COVID-19.

“One thing that we have is a translation team,” Alina Haque said. “They collectively speak 25+ languages to try to ensure our content is widely accessible. We’ve created COVID-19 informational flyers, for example, and paired with other health literacy movements to help widely disseminate information.”

Lolita Matishova, a second-year internal medicine intern at Kharkiv Medical Academy in Ukraine and a member of the translation team, said a platform like SAC is crucial to keep people informed during this time of crisis.

“We are students with a lot of information, and we use this platform to spread that information,” Matishova said. “What’s even more important is that we also translated them into different languages, so other people can read them in their own language without any challenge.”

One of SAC’s recent efforts was the SafeHand challenge video, which had members from around the world demonstrating correct hand-washing techniques.

Aman Tahir, an incoming U-M student and part of the SAC media team, expressed her excitement at seeing a collective global effort unfold, particularly when watching the SafeHand video for the first time.

“It was an inspiring educational video, compiled by talented people from around the globe,” Tahir said. “I felt immense joy watching the video knowing that there are such amazing people in this movement who have spectacular ideas and execution of projects. I know that this organization has so much in store, and I am optimistic about its future endeavors.”

SAC members not only work within SAC-managed platforms but are often part of various other forms of COVID-related activism in their local communities. Ramsha Akhund, a medical student at Aga Khan University Hospital in Karachi, Pakistan and SAC member, is also involved with a local relief effort called The Student Taskforce Against COVID-19.

“We helped set up a helpline in the hospital so the students can answer questions on-call,” Akhund said, “So that the health workers can focus on the front line and students can help behind the scenes.”

Alina Haque mentioned a collaborative effort with MedSupply Drive to collect personal protective equipment for local hospitals and health workers.

“My mom is a health care provider,” Alina Haque said. “So, I am very passionate about trying to help my local hospital collect PPE. With the use of the hashtag, I was able to connect with others to make a team here to collate PPE. We started calling places to ask for donations. We are also collecting thank-you cards and notes from our community to post in the staff entrance of the hospital to help boost morale.”

Marina Haque acknowledged the health risk associated with these efforts, and she recommended professional oversight for anyone who wants to initiate similar actions. She noted the importance of including these voices, as her group has done, when planning to ensure they are acting responsibly. 

“Within Students Against COVID, we strongly believe that any all public health efforts or social services that potentially pose a public health risk (i.e. supplies rationing, food distribution, etc) should be led by or at least overseen by a certified health professional or someone capable of interpreting scientific guidelines,” Marina Haque wrote. “These are the messages that we are trying to spread in our local and global communities; that yes, students can make incredible contributions to society during this time, but please do so responsibly.”

SAC also aims to address the mental health challenges COVID-19 and social-distancing through a 30-day self-care quarantine challenge on social media.

“This brings in a sense of community,” Akhund said. “Everyone did something similar today. They are as simple as creating a playlist or cleaning up your drawer and then sharing the things they found or things they were looking for. Just little things that we put up to bring people together.”

Alina Haque said SAC has become a community for students around the world. 

“The message I would want to give is that you are not alone,” Alina Haque said. “Even though we might be literally alone in our own houses, you are not alone. There are people who are going through the same emotions and the same experience.”

Matishova said that though the pandemic has interrupted her education, joining SAC has given her a way to offer help and be productive.

“I met a lot of people at the start of the movement and as the movement spread who wanted to help people,” Matishova said. “And it is really inspiring for me. It’s also a really good thing that I get to do something, because I am in quarantine, and I can’t work with my patients. And this way I can still help my friends, my family and my colleagues to have some information.”

Mota said SAC inspired her and showed her people from around the globe are capable of collaborating and working toward the greater good.

“This is proof that we can work together,” Mota said. “This is incredible, people work together from around the world, from countries that I have never expected that I will be working with. During a time when people are stealing medical materials from each other, this is really important, because it can show people who are in charge now that we can work together, and despite all of our differences, we can achieve really cool things.”

In terms of long-run plans for SAC, Tahir said she wants the organization to continue even after the pandemic has been put to rest.

“While COVID-19 may be put out eventually, the next pandemic to happen is not an if but a when situation,” Tahir said. “All the research, hard work and dedication put into SAC can always be a reminder of how we all should be prepared for the next pandemic. A continuation of efforts will be more beneficial than starting from scratch.”

At the current stage, many members of SAC say their main goal is to make it through the current COVID-19 pandemic safely and help flatten the curve worldwide as much as possible so lives can be saved.

“Personally, my long-term goal would be to come out of this situation thanking everyone and taking everything as a blessing and not taking anything granted,” Akhund said.

Daily Staff Reporter Jialin Zhang can be reached at jialinzh@umich.edu

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