JMSC gets WHO grant to study cultural effect on risk communication

The JMSC has been awarded a one-year  research grant by the World Health Organization to investigate whether cultural differences in Asia have any impact on the effectiveness of  communication with the public during infectious disease outbreaks.

Thomas Abraham

Thomas Abraham

Associate Professor Thomas Abraham of the JMSC, who leads the centre’s health risk communication programme, said the study will help explain why risk communication advice is interpreted and implemented differently across Asian countries.

Abraham, who was involved in the development of the present WHO risk communication guidelines, said that most of the guidelines had been developed in the context of the United States or Europe.  “This study is one of the first in Asia to identify how global health communication plans can integrate local experience and expertise to provide more effective communication responses to emerging infectious disease outbreaks,” he said.

“It’s also very topical because, as Ebola has shown us, the threat of infectious diseases is always present, and these types of diseases can travel to the rest of the world.”

The study will be conducted in China, Hong Kong and Vietnam, countries that have experienced important infectious disease outbreaks in recent years – SARS in the case of China and Hong Kong, and avian flu, which devastated poultry flocks in Vietnam.

The study will seek to identify differences in the way present global guidelines are interpreted in these countries.  It will will also develop recommendations for ways the WHO can incorporate local experience and expertise into its global health communication plans.

Jamie Wardman

Dr Jamie K. Wardman, a JMSC research fellow involved in the development and implementation of the project, said the study will highlight just how important effective communication can be in managing the outbreak of infectious diseases.

“We often tend to think about controlling disease outbreaks in terms of pharmaceutical interventions, medicines and vaccines,” Wardman said. “But very often the most important intervention is communication.”

Wardman joined the JMSC in July 2014 as a research fellow, focusing on the reporting and communication of risk and its impact in different political and cultural contexts. He is the managing editor of the academic publication Journal of Risk Research.