Newsmen Schooled on Emergency Risk Communication

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Health Reporters from across Sierra Leone and one Health Communication Officers have been trained on Emergency Risk Communication during crisis and disease outbreaks.

The training which took place from the 10 to the 12th April, 2020 in Kenema district Eastern, Sierra Leone was sponsored by the European Union (EU) and the German Agency for Technical Cooperation (GIZ) served as implementing partner.

Dr. Amadou TRAORE, GIZ Technical Adviser and Regional support to pandemic prevention program in ECOWAS on behalf of GIZ, thanked participants or been part of the training.

He said the training is aimed at health reporters and One Health Communication Officers and was occurring against the backdrop of an unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic spread worldwide that started in China in later December, to now sweep across all 5 continents in a space of a few weeks, claiming thousands of deaths, shutting businesses down, causing precipitous economic decline and waves of social distress.

In such a context he went on, Risk Communication is proven to play an important role in fostering community engagement and mobilization toward healthy behavioural, and risk minimizing choices that will save lives. 

He added that within the One Health Concept, journalists are better allies of government in furthering Risk Communication activities; hence the support of GIZ to this current training activity GIZ is doing so in furtherance of its support to the Regional Pandemic Prevention Program (RPPP) in the ECOWAS region, with funding from BMZ and European Union.

The RPPP program he said focuses on 4 interventions areas: 

1. Communication on health risks and gender sensitivity in the ECOWAS region, within the one-health framework.

2. Inter-institutional Communication and coordination between the ECOWAS Commission, specialized institutions and bodies and Member States in the fight against epidemics.

3. HR capacity building in terms of PHE Prevention detection and or response within the ECOWAS region.

4. Digital surveillance and outbreak management in Nigeria and Ghana.

According to Dr. Amadou TRAORE, in order to strengthen the knowledge and skills of ECOWAS One Health Sectors professionals including journalists in these areas, two training programs pertaining to the main areas of work of RPPP were developed, namely emergency risk communication and inter-institutional communication and coordination.

As part of this strategy, training of trainers (ToT) was organized by GFA Consulting Group on behalf of GIZ in collaboration with the Regional Institute of Public Health (IRSP). The aim of the ToT was to increase the pool of regional experts with the knowledge and skills needed to cascade these courses at ECOWAS member states levels.

“This particular training will impart in you, risk communication knowledge and skills as a result of which you will become better contributors to the Government of Sierra Leone efforts of responding to Public Health Event such as the current COVID19 Pandemic, the fight against which is a shared responsibility.”

Dr. Amadou TRAORE also thanked the Sierra Leone Government through the Ministry of Health and Sanitation and all the MDAs of the One Health referential for the appointment of participants who progressively continue to replicate the trainings in Sierra Leone.

He expressed hope that participants will seize the rare opportunity to acquire/improve their knowledge and skills in Risk Communication to be able to timely and effectively contribute to the containment of epidemics in Sierra Leone and in the ECOWAS region as a whole.

Emmanuel A.B. Turay, Acting Director, Ministry of Information and Communication spoke about the objectives of the training and said they consider the media as a key tool in the dissemination of information.

He emphasized that, Sierra Leone is not just fighting a pandemic but infodemic and called on all to come together as media practitioners to fight fake news (Infomedic). 

He also urged Health Journalists to take the training seriously and for it to serve as a training of trainers as they represent other media houses.

Victoria V. Bernard Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) Eastern Regional Chairperson said they were grateful to the government and donors for the training. She pointed out that specialization training like that was very welcome.

While appealing to Journalists to take the training seriously, she said misinformation currently is more than what they experience during the Ebola but commended the move taken by the Government through the Ministry of Information and Communication.