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Workshop "Risk Communications for Public Health Emergencies: What to Learn from Real-life Events"

Project Period: Contact: Department: Programme: Theme:
2-3 October 2014 Governance & Economy Department ASEF Public Health Network Public Health

Oslo, Norway

From 2010 to 2013, the Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF) Public Health Network implemented the Accurate Scenarios Active Preparedness (ASEF–ASAP) project to strengthen multi-sector pandemic preparedness and response. The project utilised a scenario approach to address the uncertainty of future pandemics and to assess the existing pandemic preparedness mechanisms in likely future settings. In this process, a series of workshops engaged experts from health and non-health sectors to develop scenarios, test pandemic preparedness of some selected sectors—human security, passenger air transport and food supply security—and formulate recommendations for those sectors.

Among the recommendations developed from the process, risk communications emerged as one of the common concerns across multiple sectors. In response, the ASEF Public Health Network organised a workshop on Effective Risk Communication for Public Health Emergencies and the Role of Social Media in June 2013 in Bali, Indonesia. The workshop brought together communication experts, including government agencies, international organisations, non-governmental organisations, the private sector and the media. The workshop generated several approaches to communicating risks in public health emergencies.

In conjunction with feedback from the workshop participants who supported the value of sharing lessons from real-life public health events, experts who were consulted encouraged ASEF to contribute to strengthening countries’ capacities for managing public health events, required by the International Health Regulations (IHR, 2005) and the Asia Pacific Strategy for Emerging Diseases (APSED, 2010). Both of the frameworks address “risk communications” as part of the core capacities and focus areas for surveillance of and response to emerging disease and other public health emergencies. Drawing upon its facilitation of collaboration between health and non-health sectors, ASEF Public Health Network seeks to mainstream risk communications for public health emergencies as a common area for Asia-Europe co-operation in health.

As part of this endeavour, ASEF Public Health Network organised a workshop Risk Communications for Public Health Emergencies: What to Learn from Real-life Events, hosted by the Research Council of Norway, on 2-3 October 2014, in Oslo.

Since the beginning of the 21st century, consequences of public health emergencies have displayed growing demands on communications. As the media environment has been transformed from monopolistic ownership of information and channels by a few authorised parties into creation and consumption of news through interactive platforms by multiple users, how a public health event is communicated has a greater impact than what is done at each phase of management: monitoring, assessment, reporting and response.

By looking at some selected real-life public health emergencies over the past decade until recent, participants:

  • Evaluated the challenges and capacity needs that impact communications of public health emergencies; and
  • Identified the core elements of functional lessons learned from health emergency communications.

Risk communication experts, public health officials or journalists involved in selected public health events shared their experiences, and participants evaluated the challenges and capacity needs recognised by different stakeholders in communications for such events. In this process of drawing lessons, participants identified the core elements for the lessons to become useful and functional in future public health emergencies. The objectives were achieved through presentations of case studies, questions and answers, working group discussions as well as a simulation exercise.

The Workshop Report is available for download in March 2015.


Project Updates

  • The ASEF Public Health Network published the report of its WorkshopRisk Communications for Public Health Emergencies: What to Learn from Real-life Events held in October 2014 in Oslo, Norway. The report elaborates on 3 presentations of real-life public health emergencies in recent years: the Christchurch earthquake in 2011; SARS (2000), H5N1 and H1N1 (2009) in Singapore; and Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014. The report also documents main points from working group discussions and mock press conference statements from a simulation exercise.

    Publication site:

  • 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. 


  • Research Council of Norway


  • Government of Japan
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