Guidelines for communicating about coronavirus disease 2019
Pan American Health Organization
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The outbreak of coronavirus 2019 disease (COVID-19) in Hubei, China, and the introduction of the virus into the Region of the Americas highlight the urgent need for clear, concise and consistent communication. Risk communication encompasses all the basics of health communication but differs in the need for speed and reliance on trust. At times of crisis, leaders are called on to provide a quick, sensitive and trustworthy response. The public wants to know what you know, what you are doing about it and what they can or should do. COVID-19, a disease similar to other coronavirus infections like MERS and SARS and to influenza, is causing global concern and has been declared a public health emergency of international concern by the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO). There are many unknowns, and this leads to fear, mostly about what could happen. This makes effective risk communication a strategic resource that can contribute to the success of the public health response in countries of the Americas. In an ideal situation, there would be time to plan, setting up a communication strategy and an action guide. But times such as these require immediate skills to communicate with the public. Risk communication is an integral component of public health risk management and a core capacity under the International Health Regulations. What follows are some suggestions, principles and templates to guide you through. Protecting health and averting preventable deaths is the mission that we all share. We must ensure that public health communication is timely, transparent, based on correct information and science, but also honest and frank, showing empathy and understanding about the public’s concerns. This type of communication will be essential to ensure that people understand the risks of COVID-19 and follow authorities’ recommendations to protect their health and the health of their loved ones.