The current Ebola outbreak, declared as an international health emergency by the World Health Organization (WHO), is a wake-up call and an invitation to consider more closely the “non-health” factors that can create an impact on local and global responses to public health emergencies. Since 2009, ASEF Public Health Network, through its Multi-sector Pandemic Preparedness and Response Project, emphasises the need to incorporate non-health factors and build capacity for risk communications to manage public health emergencies.

Due to public distrust of authorities, there are current incidents in West Africa where quarantine centres are being attacked and infected Ebola patients escaping quarantine. These actions seriously hinder efforts to stop the disease from spreading as well as the mobilisation of medical resources. ASEF Public Health Network’s ASEF-ASAP (Accurate Scenarios Active Preparedness) Report addresses non-health factors when governments lose the authority to manage public health emergencies.

As fear grows about the Ebola virus, excessive media attention is paid to experimental Ebola medicines and vaccines that have not yet been tested on humans and are not approved by regulatory authorities. In one of its approaches to risk communications, ASEF Public Health Network has been advocating for cross-linking media with health officials before an emergency strikes. Through such early involvement and long-term engagement, media and health can ensure dissemination of more effective and responsible communication.

In its upcoming workshop Risk Communications for Public Health Emergencies: What to Learn from Real-life Events, ASEF Public Health Network will discuss key lessons from actual cases, which could be used for current and future public health emergencies.