BEST PRACTICES FOR EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION DURING AN OUTBREAK
Last week’s editorial highlighted the importance of communication during an outbreak with focus on importance of messages and information shared during an outbreak. As the outbreak season continues, it is important to understand how effective communication can be achieved in these circumstances. This week’s editorial will focus on best practices for effective communication and how they can be applied in our environment.
- Build Trust-Trust is the foundation of outbreak communication. In order to achieve effective communication, it is important to build, maintain, or restore trust, especially among those affected by the outbreak and the general public. For those responsible for response activities such as the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), State Commissioners of Health or Epidemiologists, three elements must be remembered:
a. Transparency: Tell it all clearly and early, what is known, what is unknown and what is being done. It is essential not to hide relevant information.
b. Accountability: Take responsibility for what is done, said and promised.
c. Listening: Demonstrate clear awareness of the public’s concerns. In practical terms, this entails monitoring the media, and using other methods to understand changing public opinions about the risks posed by an outbreak and the effectiveness of its management.
Announcing Early-Making the decision to give a first announcement of an outbreak may be a difficult decision to make by the outbreak investigating team. This initial communication sets the standard for what the public can expect from officials and may shape the subsequent public perceptions of how well the outbreak is being managed. It is therefore important to inform the public once reliable information has been confirmed.
Be Transparent- It is expected that with greater transparency, a higher level of trust is built. Transparency becomes of great use in times of uncertainty when outbreak investigators are systematically seeking answers to unresolved questions. However, in being transparent, a balance needs to be created between disclosing confidential information about patients and the desire for reliable information. Limits of transparency should be set for different outbreaks. However, transparency limits should not be used as an excuse for secretiveness as this will result in loss of public trust. For every outbreak it has responded to recently, the NCDC publishes a weekly situation report on its website- http://ncdc.gov.ng/diseases/sitreps
Respect Public Concerns-The public is entitled to information as it pertains to their health and health for their families and communities. An outbreak is a news worthy event and will usually draw attention of different people and societies to the affected region. A good practice to effectively communicate with the public during this period is to consider the views of the public particularly during decision making processes. The press can play an important role if outbreak management is transparent.
Plan in advance- Planning for outbreak communication must be a part of the general outbreak preparedness plan. Applying the principles of effective outbreak at the last minutes may not likely produce the intended result. Well-planned communication will be the most effective intervention at the start of any outbreak. Communication.
As we continue to respond to outbreaks, the NCDC will continue to provide information to the public. The public is encouraged to support authentic information sharing and always utilise our various media outlets (Twitter/Facebook: @NCDCgov; Toll free: 080097000010 Whatsapp: 07087110839) to seek clarifications pertaining to health concerns. Situation reports and other information on all disease outbreaks can be found on www.ncdc.gov.ng.
References 1. www.who.int/csr