I congratulate HIFA for a strategy that raises major issues to improve health through better health information. However, I think that two related points could be detailed.
The first one is “Understanding information needs.” This is a major issue if one wants to avoid top-down communication. An accurate information not adapted to the “needs,” the representations of the target population, won’t be effective and, worse, could be detrimental. I’d just take an example. In 1988 WHO decided to launch the Global Polio Eradication Initiative with the target of global eradication by 2000. Twenty-two years later polio is still around in some countries and a new epidemic of a vaccine-derived virus started a few years ago. The reason of this failure is the resistance that arose in some populations against the mass vaccination campaigns with the oral polio vaccine. The information provided to the population during these campaigns has, of course, always been accurate, yet it didn’t fit with the “information needs.” The mass vaccinations met mistrust and hostility and a rumor spread in two regions, one in Africa, the other in Asia, that the vaccine was sterilizing the children.
The second point that could be detailed is the 7th priority of the Strategy, to protect “people from misinformation.” Why do people need to be protected? Against what? What harm or danger are they facing? Since WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stated on February, 2020, that “we are fighting an infodemic” that “is just as dangerous” as the COVID-19 epidemic a considerable number of articles, webinars and meetings have been dedicated to the study of this infodemic. However, very few have tried to evaluate how much it is “dangerous,” in other words what is its real impact on what people think. Evaluating this impact must be the starting point of any strategy to counter misinformation.
To summarize, HIFA might emphasize that to be effective health information/communication must be based on scientific studies of the representations of the target populations. “Scientific” means anthropological or sociological qualitative and quantitative studies, what is often called knowledge, attitude, and practices (KAP) studies. Studying what the population really thinks must be the starting point of any information/communication initiative.
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HIFA profile: Bernard Seytre is a Consultant at BNSCommunication in France. Professional interests: Health communication and education. Email address: seytre AT bnscom.fr