Although anthropologists have been involved in an ad hoc basis in supporting the response for disease outbreaks for decades, there is not yet a systematic and agreed upon way of integrating social science methods and interventions into all epidemics, pandemics, or health emergencies. WHO is leading the international community's attempt to agree on and systematize the integration of social science into all health emergency work.
When the PIP project on risk communication began three years ago, risk communication was neither fully understood nor appreciated. At best, it was an afterthought in epidemic and pandemic response. But as a result of the advocacy, sensitization, training, national planning work, and deployment of surge capacity under the PIP risk communication project, things have changed.
In addition, operationalizing this new capacity in recent disease outbreaks such as MERS-CoV, Avian Influenza, Ebola, Zika, and yellow fever has convinced stakeholders that communicating risk in health emergencies is essential and can have a serious impact on the epidemic response.
Risk communication in the age of Zika
PAHO/WHO provided risk communication support to 20 countries in the Americas and the Caribbean during the acute phase of the response to the Zika virus epidemic and associated complications. The key interventions were carried out to strengthen the risk communication capacities in the public health sector, with focus on improving social mobilization and community engagement interventions through coordination, social research and active listening to the concerns of the at-risk and affected communities.
FAO and WHO, in consultation with international food safety risk communication specialists developed the handbook on ‘Risk Communication Applied to Food Safety’ to support national food safety authorities and food chain stakeholders to establish and enhance risk communication practices and capacities. Risk communication is essential to increase dialogue and understanding among all stakeholders, including consumers, about food safety issues. The ultimate goal is to enable people to protect their health from food safety risks by providing them with information that enables them to make informed decisions.
Zika virus infection is associated with serious complications such as microcephaly and Guillain-Barré syndrome. Risk communication is one of the core pillars in the international response to Zika.
This mini-series is intended to be an educational resource for local, national or international personnel who work in Zika response. The 3 units introduce Zika virus disease; related risk communication and community engagement (RCCE) issues; and tips for running a RCCE response.
What is risk communication?
Risk communication is an integral part of any public health emergency response. In epidemics and pandemics, in humanitarian crises and natural disasters, risk communication allows people at risk to understand and adopt protective behaviours.
It allows authorities and experts to listen to and address people’s concerns and needs so the advice they provide is relevant, trusted and acceptable. In this video, little Ksir explains why risk communication is so important.