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Communicating Infectious Diseases Conference Kicks off at Hong Kong University


The Communicating Infectious Diseases Risk in a Dangerous Decade conference held its opening session this morning at Hong Kong University.

A two-and-a-half-day conference sponsored by the JMSC kicked off Wednesday at Hong Kong University to mark the tenth anniversary of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) pandemic.

Global health professionals, communications experts and medical doctors from around the world gathered together in HKU’s Main Building to discuss how SARS has changed the way that emergency health risks are communicated to the public.

The Conference on Communicating Infectious Diseases Risk in a Dangerous Decade, which was developed with funding from HKU’s University Development Fund, will look for ways to use risk communication not only during health emergencies, but as a tool to prevent future health risks from emerging.

The theme of the conference is “From Crisis to Prevention.” The conference runs through Friday, June 28.

The opening speaker was Malik Peiris, Chair Professor of Microbiology at Hong Kong University. He discussed the emergence of new diseases, stressing the difficulty doctors and health officials face when their recommendations for the treatment and containment of a disease conflict with the cultural, economic, or political interests of the community in which the outbreak has occurred.

Activities included an analysis of the recent emergence of the MERS coronavirus in Saudi Arabia, presented by Dr. Paul Gully, former Canadian representative on the Executive Board of the World Health Organization. There was also a presentation highlighting the very distinct ways politicians and health professionals respond to a public heath crisis, given by John Rainford, Director of Risk and Emergency Communication at the Public Health Agency of Canada.

There were panel discussions on how to build effective communication channels in Asia for relaying emergency health information, and on the advantages and dangers of incorporating social media into strategies for risk communication.

Also scheduled are discussions of methods for bridging the gap between global and local communications; communicating health risks at the community level; and how communication can be used to get people to change their behavior to lessen their risks of infection or increase their chances of recovery.

A new online training course, called Behavioral Change Communication During Outbreak Responsewill be launched on the last day of the conference.