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Learning Symposium on Crisis Communication and Media Relations during a National Health Emergency with specific focus on Avian and Pandemic Influenza (AI/PI) in Sarajevo 16 – 18 October 2007

UNICEF Regional Office for Central and Eastern Europe and Commonwealth of Independent States and the Government of Japan have joined forces to support training of official spokespersons and senior government officials on communicating with the media during national health emergencies. The workshop “Learning Symposium on Crisis Communication and Media Relations during a National Health Emergency with specific focus on Avian and Pandemic Influenza” will be held in six countries this autumn: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Kyrgyzstan and Armenia.

 In Sarajevo, the Symposium will take place from 16 to 18 October in Mediacentar premises, Kolodvorska 3, Sarajevo. The Symposium will last for three days including panel discussion with the media. It will be conducted in English with translation.

This learning Symposium will have as an overarching aim the strengthening of national communication capacity to ensure a continuum from outbreak communication to behaviour change communication, while maintaining a government’s capacity to respond in a timely and constructive manner to the information needs of the public and of the media.

The proposed Symposium will provide senior government officials and spokespersons with the opportunity to equip themselves with essential skills and strategies for health crisis communication, including how to organize and coordinate the work of relevant agencies. Techniques used in the training will include practical one-on-one simulation of media relations during health emergency situations. With this participatory Symposium, national emergency and health services will be able, through trust, transparency and authority, to significantly reduce public panic, inspire confidence and empower individuals to take appropriate action so that the impact of the pandemic will be minimized.

The targeted participation is senior Government Officials in charge of AI/PI response, and Spokespersons for health emergencies selected by the relevant government agencies, in collaboration with UNICEF Country Offices and WHO.

 

 

 

 

 

Project Summary

Learning Symposium on crisis communication and media relations during a national health emergency with specific focus on Pandemic Influenza (PI)
Sarajevo, 16 – 18 October 2007


Project summary

Background

Outbreaks of Avian Influenza (AI) have been registered all over the Europe and Central Asia region as well as other regions of the world.  A dozen countries in the Central and Eastern Europe and Commonwealth of Independent States (CEE/CIS) have reported cases of AI. In Turkey and in Azerbaijan, humans have also been infected. In Turkey outbreak, four children died and three children out of a total of five died in Azerbaijan.

While AI is serious in itself, Pandemic Influenza (PI), or a global outbreak of human-to-human transmission, remains a far greater risk to human life, with possibly several million deaths globally. 

International health authorities believe that a pandemic will occur but they cannot say when. The globally agreed strategy, therefore, seeks to prevent and contain AI outbreaks, thereby hoping to delay a pandemic and allow the development of new human vaccines which could limit the consequences of pandemic influenza.

With the prospect of millions dying from pandemic influenza, populations may easily panic if or when information about the first human-to-human case is circulated.  The impact of responsible media management in such an eventuality cannot be overestimated. Suitably planned public communication, including the ability to handle both national and international media relations professionally, is therefore an essential part of the preparation for a pandemic situation.


Purpose

Along the continuum from outbreak communication to behaviour change communication, a government’s capacity to respond in a timely and constructive manner to the information needs of the public, and of the media, is an indispensable component, which this learning symposium seeks to address.

The proposed symposium will provide senior government officials and spokespersons with the opportunity to think through about health crisis communication, including the adequate organization and coordination of relevant agencies, and practical one-on-one simulation of media relations during health emergency situations. With this participatory symposium, national emergency and health services will be able, through trust, transparency and authority, to significantly reduce public panic, inspire confidence and empower individuals to take appropriate action so that the impact of the pandemic will be minimized.

 

Participants

Participants will be Senior Government Officials in charge of AI/PI response, and Spokespersons for health emergency selected by the relevant governmental agencies, in collaboration with UNICEF Country Offices and WHO.
(see Annex 1 “participant profile”)


Stakeholders

In addition to the involvement of the national government, and in particular its health and emergency services, the local media could be included in the planning and execution of the symposia. Other agencies with a significant local involvement in AI/PI, such as USAID, the EU, and the World Bank, may also be relevant partners in several countries.

On the UN side, WHO is the lead agency within the UN for outbreak communication and the agency has since the SARS outbreak consolidated its considerable knowledge and human resource capacity in the area of crisis communication. Relevant WHO materials should be extensively utilized during the symposium and the involvement of WHO experts should be sought whenever possible. FAO, if locally present, and UNDP (ORC), particularly if there is emergency professional, could also provide valuable insights for the courses.

UNICEF, the lead agency for programme communication on AI/PI, has an extensive field presence in the CEE/CIS region, and will coordinate the organisation of the symposia. The UNICEF Country Office, and in particular its communication officer, will act as the local contact point while UNICEF’s Regional Office for CEE/CIS will provide overall management support.


Outline of programme

The symposium will last for three days including panel discussion with the media. It will be conducted in English with translation.


Possible Reference materials for symposia

WHO: Outbreak Communication Guidelines on Crisis Communication, 2005, (WHO website)

WHO: Effective Media Communication during Public Health Emergencies, a WHO Handbook, July 2005, (WHO website)

WHO: Effective Media Communication during Public Health Emergencies, a WHO Field Guide, July 2005, (shorter version of handbook), (WHO website)

WHO: Outbreak Communication, WHO Handbook for Journalists: Influenza Pandemic, December 2005, (WHO website)
 

 


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