One Health is a multi-disciplinary, cross-sector approach, working at the local, national, and international levels, to combat health issues that arise at the human-animal-environment interface. It recognizes that the changing interactions between people, animals, plants, and our shared environment influence the public’s health, and aims to achieve optimal health outcomes through a collaborative, multisectoral approach to designing and implementing programs, policies, legislation, and research.
One Health has become more critical than ever as human populations grow and expand into new geographic areas where they come into more frequent contact with animals and their environments. The control of emerging and existing zoonotic diseases, which spread between animals and people, is one area where a One Health approach can be particularly useful. Other key areas that can benefit from this approach include ensuring food safety and combating antibiotic resistance.
What Is the Role of Risk Communication in a One Health Approach?
Risk communication is one of the core capacities needed to prepare and respond to infectious disease threats, as outlined in the World Health Organization’s International Health Regulations. It is the real-time exchange of information, advice, and opinions between experts or officials and people who face a threat to their survival, health, or economic or social well-being, to enable those at risk to take action to protect their health and interrupt transmission of the disease. Risk communication capacity is essential because effective emergency response often depends on complex behavioral changes at the individual, household, community, and societal levels. Shifting behavioral and social norms requires robust and trustworthy risk communication interventions that integrate evidence-based social and behavior change approaches to:
- Establish and maintain communication systems that facilitate the coordinated engagement of communities prior to and throughout the duration of and recovery from an event.
- Enable multiple stakeholders to speak and engage the public with one harmonized voice across communication channels.
- Foster trust and dialogue between communities and the health system that enhance surveillance and early reporting.
The WHO’s Joint External Evaluation tool evaluates a country’s risk communication capacity in five main areas: (1) risk communication systems; (2) internal and partner communication and coordination; (3) public communication; (4) communication engagement with affected communities; and (5) addressing perceptions, risky behaviors, and misinformation.
Building risk communication capacity facilitates public confidence and trust in public systems when information can change rapidly and there are many unknowns. Using lessons learned from global tools and previous outbreak events, the government and its partners should undertake preparedness and strengthen risk communication systems and capacity during times when there is no acute emergency so that when the next emergency occurs they can maintain the public’s trust through rapid, reliable, and ongoing communication. Ideally, preparedness for effective emergency risk communication runs alongside preparedness for all other aspects of the response as part of a harmonized framework for public health emergency operations, so that communication, laboratory, surveillance, supply chain, health personnel, and all other stakeholders are prepared to work closely together. This systematic collaboration is often practiced through joint outbreak preparedness exercises or simulations. In the response phase, risk communication supports the rapid adoption of behavior change in affected communities, which can influence the speed at which an outbreak is brought under control.
Fostering One Health Risk Communication Systems and Coordination for Preparedness
Risk communication using a One Health approach may leverage mass and social media campaigns to raise awareness of zoonotic diseases and prevention methods; engage in rumor tracking and misinformation management; and train service providers as well as cadres of community workers and volunteers from the human, animal, and environmental health sectors, civil society groups, and media professionals on how to effectively communicate and engage the public on One Health issues. Critical to the success of these efforts are activities that include creating systems for internal and external partner coordination and facilitating dynamic exchange of technical expertise and resources to support multi-sector preparedness and response. Multisectoral risk communication is a foundational element of the One Health approach.
Strengthening capacities for risk communication systems and coordination may include identification and training of risk communication units at national and sub-national levels, establishment of coordination platforms with supporting knowledge management tools, or high-level coordination tools, communication strategies, standard operating procedures, and message guides. These systems and tools help to leverage the diverse expertise and networks across sectors to support actors working at all levels within a country to address preparedness and response with harmonized approaches, thereby reducing confusion and increasing the impact of risk communication efforts on the desired behavior change.
|Benchmarks use to assess risk communication capacity for systems and coordination include:|
Risk Communication Systems and Coordination During Infectious Disease Outbreak Response
Regular coordination meetings help to ensure that resources are used efficiently, providing forums where stakeholders can outline roles and responsibilities, and identify areas of overlap in their One Health priorities. Such structures also help to strengthen relationships of trust between governmental and non-governmental officials, and between officials at the national, regional, and local levels, and between public systems and communities. When these systems are tested and improved upon in times of preparedness, they help strengthen confidence in public systems and official information that is critical for a successful, rapid response in future emergencies.
When a new disease outbreak occurs—such as with Ebola or COVID-19—One Health risk communication systems play an important role in responding quickly. The established structures, relationships, and tools such as messaging guides and standard operating procedures can be leveraged and rapidly adapted to engage the public with accurate, timely, and evolving information, and respond to concerns or misinformation with one credible voice.
Additionally, with systems in place, key contacts are familiar with one another and able to rapidly engage, share information, and collaborate on outbreak response efforts. Thus, stakeholders avoid duplication of efforts, instead relying on the foundational One Health systems to mitigate the impact of the outbreak quickly and effectively.