Mexico City, 4 March 2020—Informing populations about the health risks posed by COVID-19, as well as measures they can take to protect themselves, is key to mitigating spread and reducing the likelihood that people will become infected. The first cases of this new coronavirus disease 2019 have already been registered in 8 countries of the Americas.
Experts from the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) have begun training the Region’s health authorities on the principles of risk communication during public health emergencies. Risk communication focuses on real-time communication of the dangers that may threaten a population. This type of communication also takes into account perceptions that people may have about a particular risk, which may not coincide with expert opinion, particularly when it comes to situations that are changeable and uncertain.
The provision of accurate, timely and frequent information in a language that people understand, via reliable channels, enables populations to make decisions and adopt positive behaviors to protect themselves and their loved ones from diseases such as COVID-19.
“Timely, evidence-based information is the best vaccine against rumors and misinformation, “said Dr. Jarbas Barbosa, Deputy Director of PAHO, during a virtual workshop for representatives of Latin American Ministries of Health, that was held on 20 February. “The Ministry of Health should be the primary source of reliable information in all countries,” he added.
Barbosa highlighted that people should also be informed when imported cases are reported, and again if there is secondary transmission (cases of local transmission from the imported case). They should also be informed later, if there is transmission in the community (local cases that are not linked to travelers), outbreaks and, finally, possible widespread/sustained transmission. “People need to understand what the risk is for them at each stage, without minimizing or exaggerating the situation, “said the Deputy Director of PAHO.
Current information indicates that 80% of people who contracted COVID-19 experience mild symptoms similar to flu and recover. The remaining 20% experienced more severe symptoms and, of these, 5% were critical and required hospitalization and assistance breathing. Around 2.3% of people with this virus have died. The majority of deaths occurred in older adults with pre-existing conditions.
People can take a series of simple measures to reduce their risk of infection. These include frequent handwashing with soap and water; covering your mouth and nose with your inner-elbow or a tissue when coughing or sneezing; and avoiding close contact with people with flu-like symptoms.