Communicating effectively in crises | ETH Zurich

What’s clear is that local healthcare must be radically improved and international cooperation intensified if we are not to be powerless in the face of a new epidemic with a highly contagious pathogen.  And since infectious diseases spread beyond national borders, the regional actors must cooperate more effectively. Several steps in the right direction have already been taken in West Africa. For example, after the Ebola crisis of 2014, the West African Health Organization was strengthened and a Regional Center for Disease Control established in Abuja, Nigeria. Such an initiative is crucial because it facilitates the early detection of disease outbreaks and boosts regional cooperation.

Taking into account culture and customs

In addition to such long-term institutional measures, there is another, often underestimated sphere of action that is directly accessible to people and has considerable influence on the spread of disease: risk and crisis communication. As experience from previous health crises has shown, it’s often difficult to assess risks and dangers accurately and to change the behaviour of the affected population so as to reduce the personal risk of infection and transmission.

During the 2014 Ebola epidemic, for example, not enough was done to explain measures such as “contact tracing” and to understand and take into account the concerns, fears, culture and customs of the local population. Contact tracing is an essential measure in containing a disease outbreak; it involves identifying those who may have come into contact with an infected person, informing them of a possible infection and providing them with medical care where necessary.

Proactive, forward-looking health risk and crisis communication is also vital because rumours and misinformation spread particularly rapidly in crisis situations. However, in many countries the health authorities have not yet developed the necessary strategies and means for swiftly identifying and correcting false information over a range of channels.

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Author: Shirley