Talking about poverty and coronavirus

March 16, 2020
by Colin Puzo Smith, Director of Communications and Expansion

Keep checking back for the latest congressional actions on coronavirus and poverty. In the meantime, here are a few general messaging tips. We’re all learning together as this situation unfolds, and we’ll update these ideas as needed.

For a look at applying some of these tips, please see “Responding to coronavirus with science and solidarity.”   

These suggestions are for RESULTS advocates focused on influencing U.S. government policy related to the pandemic and poverty. For public health communications advice, please consult the WHO, CDC, or your local health authority.  


Do: Put marginalized communities at the center

What this looks like: “With coronavirus or any pandemic, we know it’s the communities experiencing poverty and already pushed to the margins that face the greatest risks. Viruses don’t discriminate, but people and policies too often do.”


Do: Make connections between ongoing poverty issues and the pandemic

What this looks like: “Access to basic needs like nutrition and affordable housing are even more important – and even more endangered – in a crisis. And whether it’s coronavirus or other ongoing global health emergencies, we need strong global health care delivery systems, international partnership, and a respect for human rights. A commitment to equity needs to drive the policy response to this pandemic.”


Do: Stand against xenophobia

What this looks like: “Alongside coronavirus, we see fear, prejudice, and xenophobia also spreading. Which means our response needs to not only focus on science, but on solidarity. Global health challenges aren’t solved through isolation: they’re solved through partnership.”




Don’t: Accidentally play into harmful frames

Avoid language that assigns blame to a person rather than a disease (e.g. saying someone is “infecting others” or “spreading the virus,” or calling them a “carrier”). Don’t overuse words like “threat” or even “infectious” if they’re not needed. And be exceptionally careful around any conversation related to borders or immigration in the context of the pandemic.

Don’t: Use “our” safety as justification for global action

In global health, we see this argument a lot (“invest there to make us safer here”). And it’s true: prioritizing health in low-income countries is good for security and business everywhere. But even if it weren’t good for the U.S., we still know it’s needed (malnutrition isn’t contagious – but stopping malnutrition is still the right thing to do!).

The last thing we want is for global health investment to be based only on the financial or security returns for the United States. As advocates, we know we can make the moral, human case – and do it in a nonpartisan way.


Don’t: Exploit the outbreak as just a “hook”

There’s a huge difference between connecting coronavirus to the bigger picture of the fight against poverty, versus using coronavirus only as an excuse to talk about another issue. Pitting one problem against the other doesn’t help either. Instead we can focus on the solutions that are important for this pandemic AND for ongoing crises like affordable housing or the global tuberculosis epidemic.


Thanks for your commitment during this crisis. Together we’ll keep working for a response grounded in equity and justice. 

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