Coronavirus (184) Increased funding is needed for information and communication efforts

23 March, 2020

Dear HIFA colleagues,

A new paper in The Lancet says 'It's time to put information in the driver's seat of global and national epidemic responses' and calls for increased funding for information and communication efforts, especially for WHO and UNICEF. Extracts and a comment from me below.

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CITATION: Laurie Garrett. COVID-19: the medium is the message

Perspectives|the art of medicine| volume 395, issue 10228, p942-943, march 21, 2020

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(20)30600-0

In a world of polarising distrust and trade tensions, the spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), both within nations and internationally, is aided and abetted by misinformation that circumnavigates the planet in microseconds... The only bastion of defence against rising public panic, financial market hysteria, and unintended misunderstandings of the science and epidemiology of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) is agile, accurate, worldwide-available counter-information that takes the high moral ground and conveys a consistently science-driven narrative. Some have sought to limit misinformation about COVID-19 on social media by pressuring corporations, such as Facebook, Weibo, and Twitter, to censor bad actors—an approach that has not stopped conspiracy theorists, trolls, and liars...

However, there is even less funding for professional communications staffing at WHO, the various Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Africa, Europe, North America, and Asia, or their counterpart offices nested in local departments of public health. If the media isn't getting the message, in all likelihood the messengers have insufficient resources for delivery...

If governments, agencies, and health organisations want people at risk of infection to respond to COVID-19 with an appropriate level of alert, to cooperate with health authorities, and to act with compassion and humanity, I believe that they must be willing to fund their messengers on an unprecedented scale, with genuine urgency. It's time to put information in the driver's seat of global and national epidemic responses...

Getting ahead of COVID-19 requires... control of narratives regarding its scientific and clinical attributes and pandemic containment efforts—an effort that I do not think can be successful if executed on inadequate budgets by sleep-deprived communicators...

The United Nations Foundation could designate a special Emergency Fund for Pandemic Information (EFPI) to be managed by an independent (non-UN) panel of communications experts. The EFPI would seek and accept donations from social media companies, wealthy individuals, and multinational corporations now financially endangered by the epidemic. The funds could be dispersed, urgently, to the UN agencies' media operations on the front lines, chiefly WHO and UNICEF, both for their direct operations and for secondary dispersal to lead public health offices in resource-scarce countries. As Canadian social analyst Marshall McLuhan put it in the 1960s, “The medium is the message”, and today that message is chaos.

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Comment (Neil PW): HIFA urgently needs additional income to continue our work as we are running out of money despite our increasing workload. Please contact me to discuss how you and/or your organisation can help: neil@hifa.org http://www.hifa.org/support/support-hifa-appeal

Best wishes, Neil

Let's build a future where people are no longer dying for lack of healthcare information - Join HIFA: www.hifa.org

HIFA profile: Neil Pakenham-Walsh is coordinator of the HIFA global health campaign (Healthcare Information For All - www.hifa.org ), a global community with more than 19,000 members in 177 countries, interacting on six global forums in four languages. Twitter: @hifa_org FB: facebook.com/HIFAdotORG neil@hifa.org