GHSP: Social and Political Dimensions of Disseminating Research Findings on Emerging Zoonotic Viruses

16 July, 2021

This candid commentary describes some of the issues and process around publicising research findings. It's interesting that 'Decisions on whether, when, and how findings would be released were ultimately those of the national government' and there were concerns about the possibility of causing 'fear, panic and re-traumatization' among the people. The results were communicated stepwise as shown below. One question would be: What to do if there is resistance from government? (in this case the government appears supportive). What can be learned from this for public health messaging in other countries?

CITATION: Social and Political Dimensions of Disseminating Research Findings on Emerging Zoonotic Viruses: Our Experience in Sierra Leone

Dorothy Peprah, James Bangura, Mohamed Vandi, Harold Thomas, Monica Dea, Anton Schneider and Kendra Chittenden

Global Health: Science and Practice July 2021, https://doi.org/10.9745/GHSP-D-20-00321

KEY MESSAGES

Key Messages

- We discuss the complexities and challenges in disseminating research findings on the discovery of a new ebolavirus in bats in Sierra Leone, particularly in light of the previous outbreaks.

- This experience pointed to the tensions that can arise between discoveries of emerging viruses with zoonotic potential and their impact on the people in direct proximity to the ecosystems in which they are found as well as on the governments charged with protecting the health of those people.

- Future research may benefit from considering the following: (1) prioritize dissemination of findings as a distinct step within a project with a detailed plan, (2) understand and support the role of government leaders in the dissemination process, and (3) prioritize the perspectives and potential reactions of communities when framing information and recommendations.

SELECTED EXTRACTS

The EHP prioritized government leadership in the dissemination of results. In practice, this meant that laboratory detection and confirmation of a viral finding was followed by meetings with national government officials to discuss the findings and their implications. Decisions on whether, when, and how findings would be released were ultimately those of the national government.

News of the Bombali ebolavirus finding initially raised significant questions around the potential social implications and consequences of the discovery. Specifically, we were concerned about the potential of findings to amplify collective memories of devastation and loss around the relatively recent outbreak and undermine the progress that communities had demonstrated responding to the outbreak and ultimately moving forward...

The virus was found in bats that resided in the roofing structures of homes. These homes were also in communities that experienced some of the highest incidences during Sierra Leone’s ebolavirus outbreak. These factors raised the possibility of fear, panic, and re-traumatization.

The provision of information in a clear and empowering manner was identified as one means of mitigating potentially negative emotional and psychological impacts...

Research findings were presented at a high-level meeting with senior government officials from various ministries and led by the president. This approval catalyzed what were previously nascent plans for a multiphased public dissemination process. The dissemination plan had 3 components: a central meeting of district health personnel and media, a meeting of local leaders and residents in the community where the virus was detected, and global dissemination of findings beyond the country level...

Neil Pakenham-Walsh, HIFA Coordinator, neil@hifa.org www.hifa.org