Jamaica hosts Regional health communicators’ meeting

Participants at one of the session
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Health promotion specialists, health communication officers, and public health advisors from across the Region are in Jamaica for the Annual General Meeting of the Regional Health Communication Network (RHCN) enhancing their health communication, education, and advocacy capacity.

The 13-14 September meeting was coordinated by the Caribbean Regional Health Agency (CARPHA) and supported by the European Union and the Ministry of Health and Wellness of Jamaica.

CARPHA’s Executive Director, Dr. Joy St John – in a message delivered by the agency’s Corporate Services Director, Dr. Mark Sami – applauded regional health communicators for supporting the regional response to COVID-19 by “delivering communications in a cutting-edge manner.”

She said the role of communicators in public health was underestimated for a long time, but COVID-19 illustrated their value.

“We saw how mis- and dis-information rode ahead of the waves of facts; We saw how messages needed to be carefully tailored to reach the right audiences; We saw how the timing of the release of information made it either more difficult or easier to manage the response; We saw how the same messages needed to be packaged differently at different stages of the pandemic. In fact, we saw many more ways that communication impacted people’s behaviour – all during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Dr. St. John stated.

Describing RHCN as the “technical communications foundation on which CARPHA reaches the people of CARICOM,” Dr. St John said it is difficult to imagine how the Region would have coped with the pandemic without the RHCN.

“Without you, it would have been almost impossible to ensure the quality of communications, the appropriateness of delivering and responding to this crisis at the local levels and despite the low uptake in vaccination rates in some Member States, CARICOM has managed the response to COVID-19 well having lower rates of infection and death when compared to larger more resourced countries,” CARPHA’s Executive Director said.

She told the regional health communicators that their work goes beyond the COVID-19 pandemic to “supporting each other and sharing tools and best practices and to be proactive in preventing illness.”

Highlighting RHCN’s achievements, Dr. St. John said it has developed a communications repository comprising public health campaigns, images, videos, Public Service Announcements, brochures, and other communication materials.

Chief Medical Officer (ag) of Jamaica, Dr. Karen Webster-Kerr agreed that effective communication was integral to the successful implementation of the various public health interventions of the COVID-19 response.

“From the time the news broke about the pandemic and even before, communicators have been making rapid adjustments to keep up with the changes in the information, packaging the information appropriately for various target audiences, making it fit for purpose, being responsive to those audiences and doing so in a timely manner and in a context stretch resources, and with a heightened level of fear from our various populations,” Dr. Webster-Kerr stated.

In commending the work of health communicators, she said navigating the pandemic would not have been possible without them, adding, “there can be no successful public health intervention without effective communication.”

The Acting Chief Medical Officer added that RHCN was established in recognition of the role of strategic and timely communication in public health, and the limited communication resources available to many health ministries.

The meeting was therefore important in assessing the lessons learned from the COVID-19 communication interventions, and how to prepare for the next one, Dr. Webster-Kerr stated.

Regional health communicators are examining the range of responses to public health emergencies including systematic planning and implementation of strategies for community communication engagement and social mobilisation.

They are also discussing the strengthening of risk communication strategies and are benefitting from guidance on monitoring and evaluating the success of communication campaigns. In addition, the meeting is sharing findings of national and regional COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy studies to inform risk communication strategies and COVID-19 vaccination campaigns.

The launch of the Caribbean Moves initiatives on Wednesday 14 September under the auspices of the Minister of Public Health of Jamaica, Dr. Christopher Tufton, will close the curtains of the RHCN Annual General Meeting.

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