Disease Outbreak Communication Guidelines
Disease outbreaks are unpredictable. However, timely communication of the same can help in promoting public health. This would allow least possible disruption to the normal course of life of a country and its people.
Outbreak communication guidelines in this regard can help promote the goal of preventing health hazards on a massive scale, reaffirming people’s faith in the public health officials and preventing delayed outbreak control.
Some of the guidelines which can help in effective outbreak communication are –
- One of the adverse consequences of delayed outbreak control is losing people’s trust.
- Do not misinform or candidly inform about any outbreak.
- Accountability is a two-way road. Public must be given time-to-time update on an outbreak. Everything should be before them so that they don’t develop doubts on the credibility of the health officials and management.
Announcing well in time
- Outbreak communication must be done in time and comprehensibility of the public should be kept in mind.
- State facts as they are to prevent rumours to avoid panic among people.
- Do not withhold any information or leave any room for speculations. This can lead to a breach of trust.
- Acknowledge that in due course of time early announcements may become a subject to change with further research.
Transparency characterises relationship between outbreak managers and the public. Therefore, questions must not be left unanswered.
Benefits of transparency
- Transparency can expose any loophole or weakness in outbreak management.
- It results in strong, accountable and effective decision.
- Media preparation is an essential part because it is a medium through which people are conveyed the message about any outbreak. Officials must prepare and document the required an evidence backed reports.
- Concerned spokespersons should be able to confidently deliver bad news or even discuss uncertainty. They should not worry about the response. The only thing, however, that they should be worried about is misinforming the public.
- Transparency results in greater trust.
Understanding emotions of public
Understanding the public is important because it is difficult to change their beliefs.
- Teach people ways to manage crisis situations through a dialogue.
- Understand public’s beliefs and opinions and bridge gap between experts and generic opinions.
- Outbreak communication managers must represent public sentiments and bring both visions to fruition.
- If an opinion held by the public is valid, it must be given due consideration and not ignored.
- Communicate ways in which people can have a sense of control on their own health and safety. This must be done because people are entitled to knowing anything which has effects on their health.
Public health officials must plan outbreak communication as a part of outbreak management plan. It must not look like a last minute preparation.
Delayed communication can damage a nation’s credibility in saving people’s lives. So, planning in this regard becomes a vital part of outbreak communication.
If the above guidelines are implemented and executed as planned then it will result in greater and quality participation from the public. This in turn would help in controlling outbreak of any disease and limit mortality rate.
Source: Onlymyhealth editorial team Jul 28, 2011
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