The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) have partnered with the Caribbean Broadcasting Union (CBU) to host a series of digital seminars for regional journalists and communicators focused on responsible reporting of the coronavirus (COVID-19).
Four webinars are scheduled, which are intended to better position the participants to provide accurate evidence-based information regarding COVID-19 developments across the region and globally.
More than 200 media workers and communicators from Jamaica and other Caribbean territories participated in the first session convened on Thursday (June 18), under the theme ‘Key Epidemiological and Ethical Concepts for Reporting during the COVID-19 Pandemic, including Mental Health and Psychosocial Aspects and Tips for Self-Care’.
It featured wide-ranging presentations with the Jamaica Observer’s Managing Editor, Charmaine Clarke; and President of the Barbados Association of Journalists and Media Workers, Emmanuel Joseph, sharing examples of responsible COVID-19 coverage across the Caribbean.
Coordinator for PAHO’s Office of Subregional Program Coordination for the Caribbean, Dr. Jessie Schutt-Aine, who spoke during the opening session, underscored the pivotal role of media workers and other professionals in keeping pace with the pandemic’s ever-changing developments via credible sources, thereby keeping the public properly informed.
She said that this is key, particularly in light of the impact that the virus continues to have on the physical and mental health of persons.
“Since the end of January [into] early February, our lives have been transformed… in some way, shape or form. We have been faced with prolonged periods of lockdown, physical distancing and separation from friends and family, and schools are closed [resulting in] homeschooling,” Dr. Schutt-Aine pointed out.
She said while many individuals have been working remotely, mainly from home, “we also face uncertainty, as large numbers of people are affected by loss of livelihoods and sudden uncertain futures due to the economic consequences of COVID-19”.
The PAHO Regional Coordinator said this unprecedented situation has taken a toll on many persons’ mental health, triggering reactions such as fear, depression, and anxiety.
She pointed out further that with COVID-19 being a new and highly contagious virus, information and evidence on it has been evolving at a fast pace, fueling rumors and false information, which, she noted, has spread faster than the outbreak itself.
In light of this, Dr. Schutt-Aine cited the need for accurate, timely and frequent information via reliable channels and tools, “so that we can adopt positive behaviours to promote mental health and psychosocial well-being and reinforce coping mechanisms”.
“As professionals working in this space, we have the responsibility of keeping up with the evidence and ensuring that the public is properly informed. The media, in this regard, has an important role to play in keeping people informed and ensuring that the information comes from a trusted source,” she said.
Against this background, Dr. Schutt-Aine said PAHO welcomes the partnership with the CDB and CBU to initiate the webinar series.
She advised that subsequent sessions will deal with stigma and economic impact associated with the virus, adding that “we also hope to get into sessions around climate change in the context of COVID-19, given that we have officially entered the hurricane season”.
“We want to make this platform informative, interactive, practical and useful to you and your work. We [also] hope that this initiative will strengthen our partnership with journalists as we strive together to provide high-quality information and evidence to supporting reporting on health issues,” Dr. Schutt-Aine said.
In her remarks, Head of the CDB’s Social Sector Division, Diedre Clarendon, noted that the Bank places a “very high priority” on resilience as a key requirement for sustainable human development.
To this end, she said the CDB has been collaborating with PAHO to strengthen individual and social resilience across the region, by enhancing the capacity for mental health and social well-being, adding that this coverage has expanded to include the pandemic.
Ms. Clarendon emphasised the importance of regional journalists and communicators providing responsible and evidence-based coverage of the pandemic.
“Our communities are totally reliant on you. With your cooperation, CDB and PAHO will reach larger and more diverse audiences. In this way, we can make meaningful contributions to the mental health and the psychosocial well-being of the people across our region,” she added.
The CBU’s Acting General Secretary, Hilda Cox-Bullen, for her part, praised PAHO and the CDB for facilitating the series, and in particular, the focus on mental health and psychosocial well-being.
She noted that the CBU’s mandate includes, among other things, facilitating training of member entities’ staff in support of a unified Caribbean community, and, as such “we are pleased to partner in this aspect”.