PAHO: Take charge of Ebola risk
As Barbados and the rest of the region continue to intensify their fight against the Chikungunya outbreak and prepare for a possible Ebola occurrence, calls are being made for clear and consistent communication from Governments on the issues.
Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) representative for Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean Dr Godfrey Xuereb said it had become even more important for risk communication from the highest level on matters of national importance, given the rise to the spread of incorrect information on the Internet.
“Communication in the 21st century has gone through a huge change. We now have LIVE reports not only from professional journalists, but whoever has a cell phone and a camera with an Internet connection,” he said.
“The Internet has not only facilitated communication, but has also given access to misinformation and non-evidence based information has become more freely available to all. It is therefore more important to ensure that ministries of health make effective use of risk communication strategies and that all that is communicated is evidence-based,” Dr Xuereb added.
He was addressing the opening session of an emergency risk communication training workshop for Caribbean countries and territories.
The three-day seminar, being attended by about 100 participants from 13 countries, was organized by PAHO and the World Health Organization (WHO).
The workshop aims not only to prepare participants for a possible outbreak of Ebola in the region, but also focuses on capacity building in risk communication to be applied to any outbreak or any emergency, Xuereb said.
He urged government information services to utilise the social media network more to effectively in getting messages out to the public.
“Despite the experiences and lessons learned from dengue, media reports seem to suggest that many countries have struggled in responding to the current Chikungunya outbreak,” he said.
Meanwhile, acting Minister of Health Donville Inniss pointed out that while a situation of public alarm could provide an opportunity for persons to satisfy their own self interest “by whatever means possible”, it was up to the Government to bring objectivity and communication resources that the situations warranted.
Inniss further stated that it was critical for policymakers and technical officers to be clear and consistent in their message while building trust with the public, adding that media practitioners also had a responsibility of getting the message across.
Over three days, participants will among other things, plan for risk communications capacity building, carry out simulation exercises, share country experiences and develop a national risk communications strategy and plan.