For public health emergencies, risk communication includes the range of communication capacities required through the preparedness, response and recovery phases of a serious public health event to encourage informed decision making, positive behaviour change and the maintenance of trust.
Risk communication used to be viewed primarily as the dissemination of information to the public about health risks and events, such as outbreaks of disease and instructions on how to change behaviour to mitigate those risks. Thinking on this has now evolved dramatically as social science evidence and new communication and media technologies and practices have evolved in the 21st century.
Recent public health emergencies, such as the Ebola virus disease outbreak in West Africa (2014–2015), the emergence of the Zika virus syndrome in 2015–2016 and multi-country yellow fever outbreaks in Africa in 2016, have highlighted major challenges and gaps in how risk is communicated during epidemics and other health emergencies.
The challenges include the rapid transformation in communications technology, including the near-universal penetration of mobile telephones, the widespread use and increasingly powerful influence of digital media which has had an impact on ‘traditional’ media (newspapers, radio and television), and major changes in how people access and trust health information.
Important gaps include considerations of context – the social, economic, political and cultural factors influencing people’s perception of risk and their risk-reduction behaviours. Finally, guidance is needed on the best approaches for strengthening emergency risk communication (ERC) capacity and sustaining them for potential health emergencies.
Source: World Health Organisation