Preparing for pandemic influenza through improved communication
Tashkent, Uzbekistan, 23 February 2007 – “We only can win the fight against Avian Influenza by having strong communication relations and effective coordination and cooperation among agencies,” said the official from the Uzbek Emergency Ministry at the three-day symposium on communication preparedness for Pandemic Influenza which took place this week in Tashkent.
For the first time in Uzbekistan, the event brought together senior government officials, technical experts, and public relation officers of the ministries of health, education, emergency, veterinary services, agriculture and media to discuss and plan a coordinated communication strategy in the case of an outbreak of Avian Influenza. The symposium was organized by UNICEF in close collaboration with the National Influenza Centre, the Thompson Foundation (UK) and with the generous financial support of the Government of Japan.
The representative from the Embassy of Japan, Deputy Head of Mission, Minister-Counsellor Yoshiyuki Kimura, stressed the vital importance of collaboration between the media, government and international organizations in stopping the spread of a deadly virus in the case of a pandemic.
“A close look at Avian Influenza outbreaks and mortality cases in humans shows that a majority of deaths have been among children. These children were not exposed to the virus in a poultry farm, but in the backyards of their own homes,” said Reza Hossaini, UNICEF Representative in Uzbekistan, at the opening of the symposium. “Those women and children would not have put themselves at risk had they been aware of the danger. Our immediate and biggest challenge is to increase public awareness and to set up an effective surveillance system.”
During the learning symposium the participants defined practical steps in interagency cooperation in the area of communication during a pandemic. "There is a window of opportunity here where we can begin to prepare ourselves," said leading virologist and Director of the National Influenza Center, Rakhimov Ravshan.
Describing the major outputs of the symposium, Ravshan noted that for the first time health specialists, government officials and journalists were discussing a joint plan for the prevention of Avian Influenza. Special attention has been paid to the issue of protection of children and elders in this plan, since they are most vulnerable group in such health emergencies.
"The truth is that once Avian Influenza hits the country, it might be too late for effective preparation and response. We need to start our communication now,” - Uzbek Ministry of Emergency specialist.
The benefit of conducting a national public awareness campaign as one of several preventive measures to halt the impact of a pandemic was raised several times during discussions. "The truth is that once Avian Influenza hits the country, it might be too late for effective preparation and response. We need to start our communication now,” said the Ministry of Emergency specialist.
Echoing this statement, the expert from the National Veterinary Service said there was no doubt that the pandemic of avian influenza would hit Uzbekistan, since the main migratory routes for wild birds traverses the country. The only question is when it will be.
The religious committee representative proposed the use of mosques, mahallas (neighborhoods in Uzbekistan) and community meetings as some of the channels through which key messages could be delivered to the population.
For more information, please contact:
UNICEF Uzbekistan. Tel: (+99871) 1339512, 1337709, 1339735