The danger of the single storyline obfuscating the complexities of managing SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19

Joachim Sturmberg, Elisabeth Paul, Wim Van Damme, Valery Ridde, Garrett W Brown, Andreas Kalk

Research output: Contribution to journalA1: Web of Science-articlepeer-review


Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie showed how a single story is limited and thereby distorts the true nature of an issue. During this COVID-19 pandemic there have been, at least, three consecutive single stories-the 'lethal threat' story, followed by the 'economic threat' story, and finally the 'vaccine miracle' story. None of these single stories can convincingly and permanently capture the dynamics of the pandemic. This is because countries experienced different morbidity and mortality patterns, different socioeconomic disadvantage, age and vulnerability of population, timing and level of lockdown with economic variability, and, despite heavy promotion, vaccines were beset with a significant and variable degree of hesitancy. Lack of transparency, coherence and consistency of pandemic management-arising from holding on to single storylines-showed the global deficiency of public health policy and planning, an underfunding of (public) health and social services, and a growing distrust in governments' ability to manage crises effectively. Indeed, the global management has increased already large inequities, and little has been learnt to address the growing crises of more infectious and potentially more lethal virus mutations. Holding onto single stories prevents the necessary learnings to understand and manage the complexities of 'wicked' problems, whereas listening to the many stories provides insights and pathways to do so effectively as well as efficiently.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice
Issue number6
Pages (from-to)1173-1186
Number of pages14
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • COVID-19/epidemiology
  • Communicable Disease Control
  • Government
  • Humans
  • Pandemics
  • SARS-CoV-2


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