The health sector and response agencies must understand how to respond to the public during a public health threat or emergency.

This view was stated by Minister of Health, John Boyce, during his feature address at the opening ceremony of a two-day Emergency Risk Communication training workshop, this morning at the Accra Beach Hotel and Spa.

The Health Minister stated that policymakers, technical officials and others who interact with the public during a crisis must convey information in such a manner that they were reassured, especially now that all types of information and misinformation was easily available.

???When there is a threat to life, to family or to economic stability, people seek reassurance. However, any situation of public alarm creates an opportunity for persons of varying levels to turn the situation to their own self-interest by whatever means possible. Such alarms can be easily facilitated through social media,??? he remarked.

Mr. Boyce pointed out that during the influenza pandemic in 2009, health officials saw the important role of risk communication. He noted that those in authority around the world told the public what they knew about the disease, what individual governments were doing, as well as what persons should do to protect themselves.

???Our experience here in Barbados during the influenza pandemic showed that a constant flow of information by credible persons contributed to the building of trust and helped to maintain support for public health interventions that were recommended by the Ministry of Health,??? he added.

Mr. Boyce described the two-day workshop as timely, and noted the importance of having individuals from key sectors, including health officials, the police, the Department of Emergency Management, fire officials and communication specialists, among others, coming together to be trained in risk communication, so they could communicate with the public effectively in the event of a public health outbreak.

??????It is intended to craft an integrated plan which will identify in advance activities that should be undertaken during each phase of a public health emergency, that is, preparation, response, control and evaluating. In addition, the plan will need to focus more strategically on the use of social media,??? he indicated.

It is expected that by the end of the workshop, there will be a revised risk communication plan for the Ministry of Health. The first plan was developed in 2006 as part of a preparedness strategy which assisted with the influenza pandemic of 2009. Since then, specific plans were developed for response to the threat of Ebola, as well as for the Dengue and Chikungunya fever outbreaks.

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