The Word Health Organisation (WHO) has released new guidance on risk communications and community engagement for government and healthcare professionals. The guidance comes as the WHO sets out help organisation’s and professionals “develop, implement and monitor an effective action plan for communicating effectively with the public” and, to counteract misinformation to “prepare and protect individuals, families and the public’s health”.
The WHO warns against stigmatising anyone with the virus as they advise this may contribute to “a situation where the virus is more, not less, likely to spread”. Ensuring continuous dialogue with target audiences is something they recommend to help reduce stigma and also, to increase trust and social support among communities.
The guidance intends to outline the importance of communicating accurate information to “help alleviate confusion and avoid misunderstandings” and also stresses the importance of considering the right tone of voice and language when it comes to describing the outbreak during this unprecedented time.
Communications surrounding covid-19 should not be looked at with a one size fits all approach. Identifying and understanding your audience is a critical step in developing a communications and engagement plan fit to effectively communicate the outbreak.
Everyone has the right to be informed about the current healthcare crisis and the WHO advises that one of the best approaches to take is a two-way dialogue as this can provide specific communities with accurate information that is “tailored to their circumstances”.
This type of dialogue should be maintained across a diverse range of platforms and any misinformation shared by the public should be responded to with evidence-based guidance so they can be effectively refuted.
Thoughts on the WHO’s guidance
Communicating “critical risk and event information to all communities” and countering misinformation are some o the WHO’s strategic objectives for the new guidance.
Jenny Ousbey, founder if OVID Health, agrees that continuous communication is critical during this public-health crisis, however she says “we know from experience as health communicators that some common strategies such as myth-busting and fact-sharing don’t work” and can lead to “official advice not being followed”. Her advice is that “communication needs emotional resonance, it needs to make sense for people and for the things they care about” and to do this, a two-way dialogue is critical.