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Pandemic Influenza Symposium a Success among Government, Experts, and Media in Azerbaijan

© UNICEF Azerbaijan/Ibrahimova/2007

BAKU - As the threat of avian flu once again confronts Europe and Central Asia, a 3-day Symposium on crisis communication and media relations during a national health emergency convened together government officials from different ministries to discuss the organization and implementation of crisis communication campaigns in Azerbaijan in the context of a possible Avian Influenza pandemic.

Symposium organized in partnership with the World Bank (WB) and supported by the Government of Japan also featured a round-table discussion between officials and media on how to best cooperate in conveying important and accurate information to the public.

 The symposium began with UNICEF Azerbaijan Representative Hanaa Singer’s opening remarks, citing the extreme necessity for which they were meeting. “As you know, Avian influenza is already affecting the lives and livelihoods of families and children in our region, with children accounting for about half of all reported human cases and a third of deaths from avian influenza to date (three children out of a total of five died here in Azerbaijan)… Those children would not have put themselves at risk had they been aware of the danger. Our biggest challenge is to increase public awareness,” she said.

Government officials participating at the symposium represented a broad range of state structures: ministries of Health, Agriculture, Emergencies, Education, Ecology, Youth and Sports.

The trainers of the Thomson Foundation invited to instruct the participants on how to disseminate information also showed them how to work with the press, how to speak publicly, and how to replace panic and ignorance with awareness and education.

The participants seemed to learn a great deal and thoroughly enjoy themselves in the process, as Sedaqet Memmedova of the Ministry of Ecology found the symposium very useful and interesting: “I am very satisfied with the symposium. It was very special and I’ve learned a lot about how to communicate with journalists, how to carry myself; I never realized the depth of technique required to effectively speak with journalists and the media.”

With such exercises as mock press conferences, a fake crisis event, street interviews as well as videotaping analysis, the consultants were able to prepare experts and officials not just for day-to-day information dissemination, but for possible crises so that they can be effective and help those who would most suffer should Avian Flu become pandemic.

Orkhan Muradov, a journalist from the state News Agency believed the symposium was very useful for improving media-government relations in Azerbaijan “For example, there seems to be a strict and simple structure of writing press releases and there is a need to put that into practice here… I hope it’s not UNICEF’s last event of this kind.”

The purpose of the symposium according to consultant James Campbell is to, “prepare officials to work cohesively and coherently with the media so that they may reassure people. After all, the person in the village is the one who will be affected, so it’s important to figure out how to accurately relay the information instead of mixed messages and chaos. It’s especially important to target the elderly and children.”



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