International Health Regulations Risk Communication Workshop, Pretoria, South Africa
This week seventy-five participants from all corners of South Africa gathered to learn about health risk communication. Four communications specialists from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) led a hands-on workshop adapted from the World Health Organization. Representatives from provincial and national Departments of Health, Defense, and Agriculture, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, and other related governmental and non-governmental organizations participated in lively discussions on how to deal with a mock outbreak that steadily worsened.
On the first day, one participant commented “I learnt so much from U.S. CDC today. I learned that communication can build or destroy trust in an instant.” The communicators, health promoters, and communicable disease coordinators partnered to gather information, decide on key messages, build in transparency and trust for the public, and disseminate information. This workshop has laid the foundation for the development of a South African risk communication plan, and has also served to highlight the importance of emergency communication. As one scientist said, “I never realized how important communication is to public health. I’ve learned the role of communication is vital.”