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"Transparent communication in Epidemics: Learning Lessons from experience, delivering effective Messages, providing Evidence"

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Health communication during an outbreak

Effective health communication during an infectious disease outbreak is crucial for influencing the public and helping to contain disease. An EU-funded study worked on a behavioural and communication package to convey relevant messages to the public.

Health

In recent years, and with the advent of air travel, epidemics such as bird flu have become much more widespread. The H1N1 outbreak in 2009 and more recently the Ebola virus in west Africa represent two such examples, having spread rapidly due to slow communication between global health authorities and local health organisations. With this in mind, the EU-funded TELL ME (Transparent communication in epidemics: Learning lessons from experience, delivering effective messages, providing evidence) project sought better ways to encourage preventative measures during an epidemic and communicate the right information. It articulated new communication strategies to support the effectiveness of the preventative measures based on a novel framework model for outbreak communication. To achieve its aims, the project identified how to influence and motivate the public in order to take preventative measures during an outbreak, proposing ways to deal with groups who refuse vaccination. It also addressed public concerns and dealt with existing misinformation, in addition to developing a simulation model for evaluating the outcome of the proposed communication strategies. For this purpose, project partners collected evidence-based information on people's behaviour and responses in major disease outbreaks such as flu. Based on these behavioural patterns, the consortium identified and assessed new methods for outbreak communication. They also addressed challenges that need to be overcome for effective information flow. Overall, the communication strategies and guideline recommendations put forward by the TELL ME project are expected to prepare authorities and stakeholders to deal with disease outbreak. The generated simulation tool provides the opportunity to test and calculate the risks in advance, allowing necessary adjustments in the intended messages to be made. The results of TELL ME gained significant popularity in the case of the Ebola crisis. Around 30 000 Italian health care workers undertook an Ebola e-learning course based on the TELL ME communication guidelines. The project's website continues to provide tools, maintaining its success in meeting its ambitious objectives.

Keywords

Health communication, outbreak, disease, epidemics, Ebola, preventative measures, vaccination

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