How to effectively communicate during emergencies was the clear message that was sent by the World Health Organisation (WHO)/Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) and received by representatives from 21 English and French-speaking Caribbean territories during an Emergency Risk Communication Workshop held in Barbados last week.

Director of PAHO

Dr. Carissa Etienne delivering her message to workshop participants via prerecorded video

Approximately 64 participants, including three from St. Kitts and Nevis learned to identify challenges to risk communications, brief “the Boss,” deal with traditional media and social media and develop national risk communications strategies and plans. Participants were also given emergency scenarios and encouraged to come up with best practices to be taken during the various simulations.

Dr. Godfrey Xuereb, PAHO/WHO Representative for Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean Countries emphasized that both organizations have worked together to ensure that governments in the region can manage emergencies, communicate messages during the preparedness stage as well as during the acute outbreak of any national emergency. He noted that communication now involves reports from professional journalists but also anyone who has a camera or a cell phone and an internet connection. The internet was said to be able to facilitate communication but it can also give access to mis-information and non-evidenced communication.

“It is therefore more important to ensure that Ministries of Health make effective use of risk communications strategies and that all that is communicated is evidence-based,” Dr. Xuereb emphasized. “We need to also embrace the challenges that have happened in communications and in emergencies, to be able to deal with not just the traditional media but also with an ever increasing social media. In this respect it is also essential that we don’t work in silence.”

Communications Headtable

(Left to right) Mr. Kendol Morgan, Barbados Acting Minister of Health Donville Innis, Dr. Godfrey Xuereb, WHO Communications Specialist and Workshop Coordinator Dr. Guya Gamhewage, CARPHA Technical Officer Communicable Diseases Lorraine Francis

Pertaining particularly to the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD), the key words of trust and transparency were identified by PAHO Director Dr. Carissa Etienne. She reflected that trust will come into play when allowing other individuals to take temperatures while transparency is involved when having to fill in information on travel documents, such as countries recently visited.

“WHO/PAHO is committed to bolstering all the required skills of the countries to respond to a possible introductory case of Ebola in Latin America and the Caribbean and to contain it,” Dr. Etienne stressed. “Upon request, we will send in-country missions to assess the capabilities of our member states. As always we stand ready to assist, whether that’s with surveillance, infection control, laboratory of risk communication.”

Kendol Morgan, CARICOM Secretariat Programme Manager for Communication noted that the subject areas of the workshop would fall in line with his organisation’s activities.

The Secretariat is heartened that strengthened collaboration among practitioners in risk communication is among the projected outcomes of this workshop,” Mr. Morgan noted. “Communications is an area selected for focused attention over the next five years under the new community strategic planning approved by CARICOM Heads of Government in July, covering the period 2015 to 2019. Developing closer collaboration among communications operatives would be a big part of this programme.”

Representatives from St. Kitts and Nevis were William Turner, National Epidemiologist; Alecia Daniel-Blake, St. Kitts and Nevis Information Service (SKNIS) Senior Information Officer and Jessica Scarborough, Alexandra Hospital Nurse Manager/Quality Assurance Infection Control Coordinator.

Dr. Patrice Lawrence-Williams Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) Country Programme Specialist for St Kitts and Nevis was also in attendance.

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