10 countries in central Asia and Caucasus better equipped to communicate risks in health crisis


50 senior health officials from 10 countries in central Asia and the Caucasus received intense training on emergency risk communications in health crises on 8–10 December 2015 in Astana, Kazakhstan. As a result, they felt their skills to communicate risks have improved to better contribute to crisis control.

"We are increasingly confronted with health crises and we need to communicate risks. We have to provide our communities with information and public health advice. It is their right to take informed decisions. Kazakhstan learnt this when adolescents recently had a stress response to measles vaccination," said Melita Vujnovic, Head of WHO Country Office in Kazakhstan. "During three days, we enhanced our skills in emergency risk communications, improved our capability of working together and laid the foundations of effective emergency risk communications plans."

Epidemiologists, experts on influenza and pandemic preparedness, and communications specialists came together from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, the Russian Federation, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, as well as from other international organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

A mix of lectures, tabletop exercises and media tips was used so participants could learn and practice how to communicate effectively in crisis situations. In particular, they learned about the benefits of:

  • developing clear communication messages
  • communicating early and transparently
  • coordinating with stakeholders
  • listening to the public and engaging the community
  • using channels that target audiences use.

Each participant was interviewed by an experienced media trainer in English or Russian. This was followed by feedback on what to do and what not to do in front of the camera, sticking to the message, being concise and to the point, and looking professional and trustworthy. Participants also shared experiences from their own countries, reporting about steady progress in using modern tools such as social media.

At the conclusion of the workshop, countries went through their national emergency risk communication plans and committed to actions points to improve or revise them.

The workshop was organized by WHO/Europe with the support of the WHO Country Office in Kazakhstan in the frameworks of the International Health Regulations and Pandemic Influenza Preparedness.