February 9 Panel: Effective Communication Strategies in Global Health Crises

Kathryn Jacobsen

Kathryn Jacobsen

Whether it is Ebola or HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, or dengue fever, health public diplomacy plays a critical role in an effective response to managing, and hopefully, eradicating diseases that can no longer be contained within geographic borders.

PDAA presented a panel of experts on Monday, February 9 from government, academia, media, and the non-governmental community to discuss why it is just as critical to get out good health information in a way that can be absorbed by local communities as it is to have more doctors and medicines.

Representing the State Department was Todd Haskell, Director of the Office of Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs in the Bureau of African Affairs. Haskell, also a member of the Ebola Communications Task Force, discussed the Department’s health communications initiatives through the region. No stranger to dealing with challenging issues, Haskell has served in the Dominican Republic, South Africa, Burkina Faso, Mexico, Israel, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Poland.

Todd Haskell

Todd Haskell

Haskell was followed by Kathryn Jacobsen, professor of epidemiology at George Mason University, who discussed her field research in Sierra Leone and several other sub-Saharan African countries to illustrate how health information — and misinformation — is disseminated and perceived in both rural and urban areas. An expert on hepatitis, Jacobsen also spoke specifically about Ebola communication since her communities studied in Sierra Leone have been directly affected by the epidemic, and will touch on some of her other infectious disease work in Africa that relates to the communication and diplomacy theme.

Our third panelist was Christopher Conte, a freelance journalist, former Wall Street Journal writer and editor, and Knight Health Journalism Fellow in Uganda. Conte, who has also traveled the world on assignments for a number of international development agencies, has trained and mentored African journalists both in person and online for more than a decade. He discussed his work as a media consultant and mentor in Uganda, as well as the importance of crafting messages on health issues in a way that audiences can respond effectively.

Christopher Conte

Christopher Conte

Our last panelist, Collin Weinberger, is the Business Leadership Council Project Director at the Global Virus Network (GVN), a coalition of the world’s leading medical virology research centers working to prevent illness and death from viral disease. Weinberger talked about what GVN is doing to engage journalists to gain better understanding, and provide accurate reporting, on outbreaks, including Ebola and Chikungunya, and also how it is working with the business community on these same issues.

This PDAA lunch program took place on Monday, February 9, 2015 at DACOR-Bacon House, 1801 F Street NW, Washington, D.C.

Amb. Greta Morris, Collin Weinberger, and Kathryn Jacobsen

(L-R) PDAA president Amb. Greta Morris, Collin Weinberger, and Kathryn Jacobsen

Editor’s note: In a new post on the member blog, Bob Baker tells how U.S. public diplomacy helped promote an inoculation campaign in Mali, where he served as Public Affairs Officer in the 1960s.

Photos: Alan Kotok

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