Jamaica’s risk communication, in relation to the current Influenza A (H1N1) pandemic, has been described as one of the better performers among democratic countries with a free press, by United States’ Risk Communication (RC) Consultant, Dr. Jody Lanard.
“Jamaica, in my view, has been in the middle of the pack for risk communication about the pandemic among democratic countries that have a free press: In other words, among the best countries, in terms of the possibility of being open and honest and getting open and honest information out to the people,” she said.
Dr. Lanard was speaking at a workshop on risk communication for disease outbreak and disasters, at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel, New Kingston, Tuesday (July 28).
Public health officials use RC to give citizens necessary and appropriate information, and to involve them in making decisions that affect them.
United States’ Risk Communication Consultant, Dr. Jody Lanard, clarifies an aspect of her presentation on risk communication at a workshop at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel, New Kingston, Tuesday (July 28).
Dr. Lanard said that RC came about when researchers were trying to figure out why people are worried about the wrong risks, and why the public think that some trivial risks are really serious, and some serious risks are really trivial.
She pointed to the main kinds of risk communication – advocating precaution, where one tries to get persons to take something seriously that is being ignored; outrage and fear management, which helps to prevent persons from over-reacting to risks that are considered small.
Another kind of risk communication which she noted was crisis communication, which seeks to help persons to validate or bear fear. She contended that people have a right to be frightened, especially during a real crisis, when the danger is real and eminent, or already present.
“The message is ‘we’ll get through this together’, and your job is to help people endure their fear, to bear their fear, and to help them direct their fear to the right aspects of the crisis. You have to give them advice that they can actually enact; you have to give them actions that they can take,” she explained.
She suggested that health officials and Governments follow the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) outbreak communication guidelines. These guidelines involve building public trust. She noted that maintaining trust and restoring trust when it is lost, is crucial in terms of leading people through an outbreak. She added that involving the public and getting their feedback is also important.
Dr. Lanard said that announcing information early is also critical, even when not much is known about a particular outbreak. Governments have to announce information early, so that people can start taking precautions early. But, she said that transparency did not mean telling everything.
“When you are not going to tell the public everything, tell them what issues you are keeping quiet about and why,” she suggested. She also pointed to planning the communication strategy ahead of time
According to the WHO, 94,512 cases of Influenza A were confirmed in 136 countries and 429 deaths, as at July 6. In Jamaica, there have been 44 confirmed cases and 2 deaths.
The 3-day workshop, which runs July 28-30, was organised by the Ministry of Health, in collaboration with the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) and WHO. It was put on in an effort to sensitise media personnel on the importance of risk communication in disease outbreaks and other emergencies.
It aimed to educate critical stakeholders about the specific strategies and methods, which will enhance the communication of information relating to the present H1N1 situation and other emergencies.