Applying the principles of communication during a public health crisis to safeguard health security and democracy
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Publication date: 2023-04-26
Popul. Med. 2023;5(Supplement):A1652
During the COVID crisis government agencies around the world have embraced an open government approach and mobilized unprecedented resources to get information into the hands of citizens, address false and misleading content, and lead societies out of the crisis. Yet during the pandemic, we have witnessed how false information about medical treatments, vaccines, and the overall COVID-19 response, has spread fear and skepticism about science and perpetuated a sentiment of general distrust of the government and in some cases resistance to science-based policies. This study focused on governments’ communication capabilities and functions to be enhanced in preparation for future emergencies.

We conducted interviews with 27 government officials across 19 countries and 5 continents who served in a position as spokesperson or direct advisor to the spokesperson during COVID-19 and other emergencies. Thematic analysis was used to organize and identify salient themes and patterns that emerged from the qualitative data.

The themes emerged from the analysis include: transparency, accountability, coordination, consistency, timeliness, politicization, responsiveness, ethics, equality and trust. Interviewees highlighted specific examples of how maintaining effective communication across these themes and communication principles may be challenging and brought examples of what tasks public health agencies should oversee and pay attention to enhance communications. Examples include: internal processes to ensure transparency, quality of the information shared with the public, use of AI to monitor mis-disinformation, ethical principles in the code of conduct in social listening, monitoring and communication activities. This presentation will include practical recommendations on how to enhance communication plans.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, government agencies engaged in public health communication efforts have been challenged in applying principles of effective communication. This study has identified specific tasks government agencies can include in emergency plans to address the complexity of the information ecosystem and prepare for future crisis.