12,793 Outbreak Communication, The Drum Beat 707. March 9 2016

The Drum BeatOutbreak Communication – The Drum Beat 707
March 9 2016

In this issue:

From The Communication Initiative Network – where communication and media are central to social and economic development.
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The current Zika outbreak is receiving significant media coverage, raising questions for communication practitioners about how to adeptly approach the outbreak response. As is illustrated, for example, by these Zika Communication Materials, officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) are amongst those paying increasing attention to this mosquito-borne infection that has been found in 24 countries and territories in the Americas. In addition, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the spread of the Zika virus an international public health emergency, a move that signals the seriousness of the outbreak and gives countries new tools to fight it. And in February 2016, WHO launched a global Strategic Response Framework and Joint Operations Plan [PDF] to guide the international response to the spread of Zika virus infection. This issue of The Drum Beat aims to further support those who are communicating in a time of Zika or any other infectious disease crisis.

  • 1. The Great Zika Freak-Out: A Teaching Moment in the Psychology of Fear
    by David Ropeik
    “A new disease with an exotic name, Zika virus, is spreading ‘explosively’ around the world. It may be causing babies to be born with shrunken heads and brains. No one has immunity. Experts admit significant uncertainty about how the disease spreads, what symptoms it causes, or just which parts of the population face the greatest danger. And the media is going bonkers. There could not be a more perfect set of conditions for a full-blown freak-out about a threat that plenty of evidence also suggests may not be that great a threat at all. And that kind of risk reaction can be dangerous all by itself…” [Jan 2016]
  • 2. Health communication in the time of Zika in Haiti
    by Kenny Moise
    “…Proactive communication is the first step in management of an epidemic. But between the limited resources and the outright flaws in the Haitian healthcare system, the public is far from being reassured. Communication weaknesses have already started to plague the good management of this outbreak, hence affecting trust even more. As a matter of fact, the confirmation notice of the presence of the disease in Haiti came late compared to expectations of the people who observed that it was rapidly gaining ground and awaited a word from the Ministry of Health….In order to foster behavioral changes necessary to protect lives, it’s important to know the perceptions and existing practices of the population. A never-ending conversation with the public allows effective management and is worth more than sparse and scant monologues in times of panic…” [Jan 2016]
  • 3. While Zika certainly has the potential to be dangerous, we should be careful …
    by John Rainford and Joshua Greenberg
    “…Increasingly, we understand that effective health risk communication is about much more than just technical risk assessment. Just as importantly, it’s about understanding and assessing risk perception. The trick, as always, is striking a balance between the two. As our knowledge about the threat of Zika becomes clearer, as the science matures, and as our understanding of public risk perception grows, we have to continually recalibrate our messaging. That artful balance between scientific analysis and the analysis of risk perception holds the key not just to effective risk communication, but to successful risk management as well.” [Jan 2016]
  • 4. Zika Emergency Puts Open Data Policies to the Test
    by Larry Peiperl and Peter Hotez
    “The spreading epidemic of Zika virus, with its putative and alarming associations with Guillain-Barre syndrome and infant microcephaly, has arrived just as several initiatives have come into place to minimize delays in sharing the results of scientific research….At PLOS, where open access and data sharing apply as matter of course, all PLOS journals aim to expedite peer review evaluation, pre-publication posting, and data sharing from research relevant to the Zika outbreak….Only through the willing participation of research scientists, however, can the community realize the potential value of policies that support openness. We encourage researchers to make full use of the resources that journals, funders, and international organizations have provided to facilitate early and rapid sharing of the data that will lead to better understanding of this emergency and mitigate its potentially disastrous impact on human lives.” [Feb 2016]
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  • 5. Communicating in a Crisis like Ebola: Facts and Figures
    by Elizabeth Smout
    In this article, Elizabeth Smout examines health communication in the context of the ongoing Ebola outbreak in West Africa, suggesting that critical look at the complications and experiences from the perspective of communications and social science holds lessons for future public health responses to infectious disease outbreaks. “Information sharing works best as a dialogue facilitated by trained local people acting as social mobilisers – because people known to the community are more able to engage others in conversation and be trusted with their concerns.” Smout also points to the importance of dialogue between countries, as well as between local and national governments. Coordination of communication on the part of all partners involved in response to an outbreak can minimise the risk of spreading false information and rumours. [Apr 2015]
  • 6. Ebola Outbreak, Sierra Leone: Communication Challenges and Good Practices
    “Early messages designed to change the behaviour were counterproductive, as they failed to take into account deep rooted cultural practices and beliefs and context-specific difficulties. The most efficient messages were adaptable enough to be culturally and regionally appropriate, repetitious and available in relevant languages.” This is one of the key lessons learned outlined in this report discussing behaviour change communication (BCC) and messages disseminated during the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone in 2014/2015. It was found that it was important for messages to be positive and engaging. “Early messages which were perceived as ‘If you catch Ebola, you will die’ became ‘If you catch Ebola, you can survive’.” Messages also needed to be developed to increase transparency and accountability and counter false perceptions of corruption and misinformation. [Dec 2015]
  • 7. 6 Ways Technology is Helping to Fight Ebola
    by Timo Luege
    Based on consultations with the TechChange Alumni community and other experts in international development and humanitarian assistance, the author pulled together a list of different technologies being applied to manage Ebola. The list includes concrete examples of what different organisations are doing and offers links to further information – e.g., connecting the sick with their relatives using local Wi-Fi networks and mythbusting for diaspora communities via social media. [Oct 2014]
  • 8. Participatory Action Research on Avian Influenza Communication: Findings from Burkina Faso
    by Serigne Mbaye Diene, Christophe Coulibaly, and Daniel Thieba
    This paper on participatory action research (PAR) conducted in two villages in Burkina Faso affected by avian flu documents information on the existing social, cultural, and economic implications of bird flu in these villages. The research suggests that: “Communications activities will be indispensable for causing people to change their behaviour and practices in order to combat avian flu. These actions must be carried out in close collaboration with customary authorities who enjoy a high degree of prestige in their communities and who have the trust of the people.” Recommendations are offered. [Nov 2007]
  • 9. One Year Later: 5 Lessons from the H1N1 Pandemic
    by Bryan Walsh
    One lesson learned: “It all boils down to communication and trust: …[T]he perception that officials overhyped and overreacted to the H1N1 pandemic may make the public less inclined to react appropriately the next time around….The only way to defuse public skepticism is for health officials to communicate better what they know about an outbreak – and even more important, what they don’t know about it….There wasn’t enough explanation of what a ‘pandemic’ really meant; that it referred only to the transmissibility of the new virus – not its virulence.” [Apr 2010]
  • 10. Polio Outbreak Simulation Exercise: How to Test National Preparedness Plans Using the POSE Model
    This simulation exercise is primarily designed for health organisations to run as a 1-day discussion-based simulation exercise. Multi-agency participation is beneficial and is enabled through the scenario and discussion points. “By facilitating hands-on practice, POSE exercises: emphasise the importance of communications as the key element of any response; point to the need for crisis communications plans; provide an opportunity to review national plans from a new perspective and using a novel methodology; and highlight the importance of liaising across borders/countries and building partnership as part of outbreak response preparedness.” [2015]
SEE ALSO these related, previously published Drum Beat and Soul Beat e-magazines:


  • 11. New Communication Strategies for Preventing Misinformation
    “…although two-way communication is listed as a strength of social media, this can also be used negatively to further perpetuate misinformation…” This is one lesson learned shared in this resource from the TELL ME (Transparent communication in Epidemics: Learning Lessons from experience, delivering effective Messages, providing Evidence) project, which aims to provide evidence and to develop models for improved risk communication during infectious disease crises. The document focuses on issues related to the emergence and spread of misinformation and rumours within the wider outbreak communications environment and across the 4 pandemic phases (inter-pandemic, alert, pandemic, and transition), as specified by WHO. The scope covers infectious diseases where both preventive (e.g. social distancing) and protective (e.g. vaccination) measures are likely to be introduced. [Jan 2015]
  • 12. HealthMap.org
    “HealthMap brings together disparate data sources, including online news aggregators, eyewitness reports, expert-curated discussions and validated official reports, to achieve a …view of the current global state of infectious diseases and their effect on human and animal health.” Through an automated process, updating constantly, “the system monitors, organizes, integrates, filters, visualizes and disseminates online information about emerging diseases in nine languages, in order to facilitate early detection of global public health threats.”
  • 13. Vaccine-Preventable Outbreaks [Interactive Map]
    The Global Health Program populates the map with data gleaned from reports by the media, governments, and the global health community dating back to outbreaks starting from the autumn of 2008. Other information added to the map is via a participatory process.
  • 14. Communication for Behavioural Impact (COMBI): A Toolkit for Behavioural and Social Communication in Outbreak Response
    The document introduces the public health rationale for outbreak response and for this approach, who might benefit from using the toolkit and why: “A method such as COMBI can reveal potential routes for amplification and transmission embedded in deep-seated cultural practices, which are critical to outbreak control but may not be identified in the interviews usually conducted in outbreak investigations.” It was designed for developmental communication and health promotion personnel working in multidisciplinary teams to investigate and respond to disease outbreaks. [Jan 2012]
  • 15. How to Report a Disease Outbreak or Pandemic
    by Fang Xuanchang, Jia Hepeng, and Katherine Nightingale
    This SciDev.Net Practical Guide from 3 editors of Chinese news weeklies gives advice on how to avoid sensationalism when reporting disease outbreaks, particularly in developing countries, where, as indicated here, resources may be scarce and the challenges of communicating important information can be great. “Developing relationships with scientists who trust you is crucial.” [Oct 2009]
  • 16. World Health Organization Outbreak Communication Planning Guide
    The guidance in the document is written with the intention of building an organisation’s public communication capacity for responding to public health emergencies in general. According to this guide, there is a point in the “epidemic curve” (graphic illustration of the increase in cases of infection) at which proactive communication plays a crucial role in supporting a rapid response – “the control opportunity” – that can help reduce cases of infection. [Dec 2008]
This issue of The Drum Beat was written by Kier Olsen DeVries.
The Drum Beat is the email and web network of The Communication Initiative Partnership.

Full list of the CI Partners:
ANDI, BBC Media Action, Bernard van Leer Foundation, Breakthrough, Citurna TV, Fundación Imaginario, Fundación Nuevo Periodismo Iberoamericano (FNPI), Heartlines,Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Center for Communication Programs, Maternal and Child Survival Program (MCSP), MISA, Open Society Foundations,Oxfam Novib, PAHO, The Panos Institute, Puntos de Encuentro, SAfAIDS, Sesame Workshop, Soul City, STEPS International, UNAIDS, UNICEF, Universidad de los Andes,USAID, World Health Organization (WHO), W.K. Kellogg Foundation

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