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Effectively communicating in a public health crisis

By Joanne Wunder

Never before in living memory has a public health emergency affected so many of us in such a monumental way. The COVID-19 pandemic is shining a light on just how important effective messaging is in the handling of a global public health crisis.

In John M Barry’s 2009 Nature essay titled Pandemics: Avoiding the Mistakes of 1918, he said: ‘In the next influenza pandemic ... the single most important weapon against the disease will be a vaccine. The second most important will be communication.’

Today the world is grappling with the spread of two diseases: COVID-19 and – potentially the most harmful of all – misinformation. How many of us read the ‘advice’ on our social channels about drinking hot fluids to stave off COVID-19? This is just one of the many examples of the weird and dangerous fake news items making their way around the globe. Not only that, but the excessive amount of information available makes finding the correct guidance even more difficult.

So, what can we do as health communicators to combat this ‘infodemic’ that we are facing?

In a public health emergency, clear, urgent and effective communication from authorities, government agencies and key voices within communities is crucial. As communicators, it is important to coordinate with these key stakeholders to avoid duplicative efforts, ensure any communication gaps are being filled and to understand how best to help people.

Given the dynamic, quickly-evolving nature of a health crisis – as outbreaks become epidemics which, in turn, become pandemics – it is critical to be flexible with communications and to deploy evolving messaging, strategies and tactics. Your audiences will need different information as the crisis develops, so being able to pivot to align with new guidance can be life-saving.

Finally, in this digital age, with the overabundance of news and information, people are saturated with constant updates. It is important to share information for people, and not just about them, in a clear and simple way, so they can take practical steps to maintain their health, while avoiding the perpetuation of hysteria.

Joanne Wunder is Managing Director, Head of Europe at Evoke KYNE

In association with

26th May 2020

From: Marketing

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