Harness the power of risk communication in crises


Medics attend to a Covid-19 patient at Kenyatta National Hospital.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Imagine a city on the edge, gripped by the fear of an invisible enemy. Panic spreads, fuelled by misinformation and uncertainty. In the chaos, a silent hero emerges as the guiding light, the compass navigating individuals through the darkness.

By providing clarity, dispelling myths and empowering communities with accurate information, risk communication is a vital tool that can be the difference between survival and devastation.

The world has witnessed the profound impact of risk communication in various health emergencies.

A poignant example is the outbreak of cholera, a preventable disease that claims thousands of lives yearly. Through effective risk communication, the transmission of cholera can be mitigated and lives saved. By educating communities about proper hygiene, authorities can empower individuals to prevent its spread.

Dispelling misconceptions, addressing fears and promoting behavioural changes can significantly impact the trajectory of an outbreak.

Another is the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) outbreak in South Korea. The authorities proactively delivered clear and transparent updates on the evolving situation, preventive measures and testing protocols.

Leveraging technology and social media platforms, they reached a wide audience with accurate information reached the public and debunking rumours. The effectiveness of their risk communication efforts was evident in the containment of the virus and the restoration of public trust.

The Covid-19 pandemic has further underscored the vital role of risk communication. Countries like New Zealand and Taiwan have gained recognition for their swift and transparent communication strategies. By consistently delivering science-based information to the public, these nations fostered trust and compliance with preventive measures.

In the realm of medical products, risk communication is equally crucial. Take, for instance, the infamous Vioxx recall, and its associated risks. Effective risk communication was instrumental in promptly addressing concerns and informing the public about the potential dangers of the medication.

Vaccine safety communication is another area where effective risk communication plays a vital role. Vaccines play a crucial role in preventing the spread of infectious diseases and protecting public health.

But concerns about vaccine safety can arise, leading to hesitancy. During the H1N1 influenza pandemic in 2009, efforts to provide accurate information about the safety and efficacy of the vaccine helped to alleviate fears and promote vaccination.

The heroes of risk communication understand the significance of timely and accurate information in empowering individuals and communities to make informed decisions and protect their well-being.

In an era of evolving health emergences, risk communication is a potent ally, empowering individuals, building trust and forging a path to a healthier, safer future. By recognising its transformative potential, investing in robust strategies and harnessing the power of technology and media, countries can forge a path towards health emergency resilience.

Ms Sirima is a communications specialist. [email protected].