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Come June 2014, Dominica will be in full compliance with International Health Regulations. That is according to Minister of Health, Hon Julius Timothy who spoke at the opening ceremony of a two-and-a-half day Risk Communication Capacity Building Worksop at the Fort Young Hotel last week.
The workshop, which is the first of its kind in the Caribbean, was organised by the Ministry of Health in collaboration with the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) and the US Centre for Disease Control.
The gathering was focused on the facilitation and encouragement of improved risk communication for public health emergencies in Dominica and the Caribbean.
According to Timothy, risk communication is an evolving social science which gained some prominence when Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) disease emerged, the first new disease of the 21st century.
“It (SARS) showed that decisive international action and taking full advantage of modern communication tools could prevent a new disease from moving on to endemicity,” Timothy explained.
“It raised the profile of public health to new heights by causing enormous economic damage and disruption; SARS primed politicians to understand both the far reaching consequences of outbreaks and the need to make rapid containment a high priority to make rapid containment a priority,” he said.
The minister is convinced that effective is communication with the public and stakeholders within the health system is critical in the event of a public health emergency.
Timothy reiterated the importance of effective communications while highlighting that a lack of it can cause loss of public confidence which in turn stands to affects the stability and viability of the health sector, economies and governments as a whole.
“As part of maintaining trust, the health sector must inform the public quickly of developments include various sectors in planning; listen and react quickly to stakeholders to address rumours and diminish social turbulence … in this global world viruses and news travel quickly but so does misinformation,” he said.
“My ministry is well on its way to achieving the twelve core capacities to obtain international health regulations compliance.”
A draft risk communications plan has been prepared and will be presented to cabinet for approval, Timothy said.
Meanwhile, National Security Minister Charles Savarin described the workshop as timely and welcomed the move to develop a risk communication plan for Dominica.
He lauded that Dominica was taking concrete action to address improvements in communication for public health emergencies.
“I am aware that health threats can accompany national disasters,” Savarin said.
He further stated, “Any threat to the health sector of one part of the world is a threat to the other health sectors around the world.”
He pinpointed the need for Dominica and the OECS to learn from countries which have been severely impacted by major medical incidents over the past decade.
“Comprehensive disaster risk management has become a fundamental pillar in the development planning process,” he stated.
“The advent of social media and communication technology has placed a premium on proper dissemination of information and misinformation as a high probability for transmission and going viral within a much shorter time span,” he said.
According to him disasters or crisis remain the single most unpredictable phenomenon challenging small vulnerable economies, particularly in the Caribbean region hence the need to “work expeditiously to put in place practical and modern policies and protocols to ensure that our response to any crisis is swift, efficient, effective and communicated professionally.”
Meanwhile, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health Helen Royer welcomed the workshop while stating that risk communication is an important tool in managing health threats.
These threats include the recent outbreak of H1N1 in 2009 and the increase in leptospirosis cases on island.
“It helps the public to understand its level of risk from diseases and other health threats and it provides information on how to protect themselves, their families and their communities from outbreaks.”
Coming out of the workshop, a national plan of action will be formed for risk communication for Dominica, Grenada, Barbados and St. Lucia.