Thursday 1 August 2013

Reporting on the MERS-CoV event..behind the scenes timeline

In an Eastern Mediterranean Heath Journal (EMHJjournal issue dedicated to MERS-CoV, there is an article entitled "Novel coronavirus: the challenge of communicating
about a virus which one knows little about" written by Gregory Härtl, Head of Public Relations/Social Media for World Health Organization.
The article details how the World Heath Organization, educated by the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) event, has responded to MERS-CoV by applying their WHO Outbreak Communications Guidelines:
"These Guidelines stipulated that all acute public health event communications should be planned, organized and executed in keeping with the 5 principles: trust, transparency, announcing early, listening and planning."
The report details the waxing and waning of media interest in the MERS event and the parallel responses of WHO to new reports of cases and clusters which were often interspersed with periods of quiet. It also describes the timeline of providing information to the world about the "novel coronavirus". 

I'd also like to note that WHO, or any institution, can only be as transparent  proactive, timely and informative as the information it receives allows it to be. Sure, a researcher on the ground can report the precise details of their study, cases, symptoms  epidemiology, sequences, assays - they hold all the cards - but global educators and planners like the WHO need that information passed along in order to share it quickly. Only  then can they address its principles.

The paper also notes that Twitter and other social media are the WHO's main means of keeping in contact with the world. This started in 2009-10 and was expanded in 2012 to a dedicated social media function  @WHO now boasts 837,790 followers.

To paraphrase a very nice wrap-comment, the article notes that people want to know what's going on when a disease breaks out and in finding the information they desire, a trust is also built between the person and the institution (and its partners) which provided answers early, simply and transparently. 

Such trust, once built, can then be leveraged to advise a possibly panicky population should a random cluster of cases turn into an outbreak, epidemic or pandemic.

Its a bridge-building process that Mr Härtl and the WHO are clearly working hard at...and doing very well.

Follow Mr Härtl global health WHO updates on @HaertlG and the WHO on @WHO.

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