Meesha Brown - We Need Effective Communication




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Nov 16, 2018
by Kwasi Gyamfi Asiedu
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Meesha Brown - We Need Effective Communication

PCI Media executive vice president discusses her campaign work to help inform people Meesha Brown at Salzburg Global Seminar

“Usually, they think of us when things have already gone out of hand,” Meesha Brown jokes. Brown, the executive vice president of PCI Media, a communications NGO based in New York, believes communication should no longer be considered as a last resort. It should be central to the fight against the spread of pandemics and part of the response to outbreaks from the onset.

Information is powerful, she says. Speaking as a participant of Finding Outbreaks Faster: How Do We Measure Progress, Brown says, “The people that have the best information are the ones most equipped to make the best decisions. If people do not have access to accurate and timely information then, they are not positioned to act in ways that help to control an outbreak.”

Brown and her colleagues at PCI Media worked on two communications campaigns during the Ebola outbreak from 2014 to 2016 in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. According to the World Health Organization, 11,300 people died as a result of the outbreak.

Focusing on the lives of some of the 17,000 survivors of the disease, the #ISurvivedEbola campaign was a multilingual multimedia campaign featuring stories of resilience that sought to debunk myths and misinformation. It conveyed the message that surviving the disease was possible if treatment was found early and helped reduce the stigma survivors faced when they returned to their communities. In Sierra Leone, PCI Media also worked on “Road to Recovery," a multimedia series employing the elements of drama and romance to tell stories about survivor stigma and the need for prevention and vigilance.

Aside from radio, television and social media, PCI Media used gatherings to spread messages. Brown says, “We ended up partnering with about 50 other organizations that were involved in other aspects of the Ebola response - like airing [our campaign videos] when the World Food Programme would go to a community to do a food drop. So while people were coming to get the food, they could see these stories of survival and hope.” An estimated five million people were reached directly through both campaigns in 14 languages widely spoken in the three affected countries, Brown says.

Brown believes the absence of effective communication strategies from the start of the pandemic was a contributing factor to the spread of the epidemic that occurred later. “Information about proper burial techniques, information about what medical professionals that were showing up in the PPE (personal protective equipment) were actually there to do, information about what exactly happens when you go to a treatment facility, all of this information, if you are medical professional you have access to [and so] your level of comfort is very high,” Brown says.

She adds, “But if I am in a village, and I don’t have access to the same information, then you can see where all the types of things that happened in the outbreak occurred - communities refusing help from medical professionals and the continuation of burial practices until we were able to communicate things in an understandable way. So, communications is critical; it provides a tool for people to use to make the decisions that can save the lives of themselves and others.”

However, communication must be done well, and campaign messages must be thought through before being shared with the wider populace.

“One of the common mistakes is thinking that just because [a message] is technically accurate, it is effective communication,” Brown says citing an example. “One of the countries in the Ebola outbreak built a communications campaign around this idea that there is no cure for Ebola and put a lot of resources behind spreading this campaign message which is technically accurate, but if you reflect on it for a moment, it is also quite disempowering.”

So, what message should have been used instead? Brown says, “The message that might be technically accurate and more effective is ‘It is possible to survive.’ It is not the same thing as saying there is a cure and it does not promise a cure, but it promises the idea of a recovery which is possible. And a message like that is a way to speak the truth but also help people know what they can do next.”

The program Finding Outbreaks Faster: How Do We Measure Progress? is being held in partnership with Ending Pandemics and the University of Minnesota. To keep up to date with the conversations taking place during the program, please follow #SGShealth on Twitter and Instagram.