ONE of the biggest concerns of many countries today is implementing or rolling out effective information about the pandemics or infodemics – the kind that enlightens, inspires and encourages the public to trust their government strategies and align their health behaviors and decisions to these strategies so that the overall goal of reducing or curbing the spread of the coronavirus is attained. The Philippines is miserably struggling in this area because of either wrong information, withholding of vital information or mishandling of information. It has been repeatedly said that proper and effective risk communication builds the foundation of public trust. This has not been achieved by the national government, given its inefficiency at several major aspects of globally identified pandemic countermeasures, from identification and contact tracing, isolation and quarantine, vaccine programs and other interventions to the simplest strategy, which is risk communication and community engagement (RCCE).
According to Dr. Marsha Vanderford in her OpenWHO presentation on Risk Communication and Community Engagement, there are several factors that cause confusion in communities, namely when the government communicates about what is still unknown regarding Covid-19, when the government changes recommendations and guidance over time, when various organizations provide conflicting information or recommendations about Covid-19, and when people hear different recommendations that apply in different locations.
The need for infodemics emphasizes the importance of RCCE and the need for trusted “messengers”. The overriding goal for outbreak communications is to communicate with the public in ways that build trust based on the WHO Outbreak Communication Guidelines, 2005. Positive outcomes of strong trust include the increased practice of protective behaviors, higher levels of message acceptance, participation in preparedness and increased vaccine acceptance.
The OpenWHO RCCE course stresses the importance to “combine hope and worry”. Risk communication must answer risk perception. Effective risk perception involves assessment by health and medical experts about the severity and prevalence of a threat to health or safety, public opinion about the likelihood that harm will occur to an individual’s health or the health of someone they care about, individual assessment about the possibility of harm to one’s livelihood or the local economy, politicians’ judgment about the potential for a threat to harm their reputation, and health authorities’ judgment about the potential for a crisis to damage its credibility among the people it serves.
For example, one of the infodemics problems for the country is the messaging that indirectly encourages sole reliance on masks, and eventually on vaccination, and not a regular emphasis on the other health measures. The OpenWHO Course on Guidance on Mask used in the Context of Covid-19 advises for the use of masks to be considered as part of a comprehensive package of prevention and control measures to limit the spread of SARS-CoV-2. The use of a mask alone even when used correctly is insufficient to provide an adequate level of protection or source control. Compliance with the other measures, such as hand hygiene, physical distancing, respiratory etiquette, adequate ventilation, testing, tracing, quarantine, isolation and other infection prevention and control measures are critical as a bundle of measures to prevent human to human transmission of Covid-19.
A sufficient amount of RCCE skills is needed among leaders responding to the pandemic in countries and communities to efficiently manage uncertainty and establish and maintain public trust. Community engagement involves facilitating decision-making at the local level, inclusion of communities early in preparedness and response activities, identifying and empowering sources in the community that are credible to local audiences, working with community member to tailoring and localize health messages and materials, empowering community members to tailor and mobilize community interventions, encouraging community-based participation in the development and dissemination of messaging can help inform the types of strategies to be used.
When there is strong community engagement (CE), the success of institutional emergency plans depends on communities and institutions working together. Collaborative relationships generate more timely responses. Higher levels of public involvement and engagement are linked to improved community response. Involvement of the community in the development of interventions and messages increases attention and “buy in.”
That is why the 2022 elections will be very crucial to the Philippines. I have a bias for young leaders in different fields. Just like I have a bias for new phones or laptops. As long as their specifications are genuine, their operating systems are uncorrupted. New units have wider storage, larger memory space and faster UI/UX. And frankly, I want those relevant to my requirements.
Plain, unfeeling systems thinking. Nothing personal. No computer is free from viruses. But as users, we need to check their anti-virus program, firewall settings and other defenses. Just like no leader is free from the possibility of being corrupted but we need to check their values and working principles just like how we examine our new gadget. After all, leaders come and go. But results of leadership impact us for a long time.