At the height of the Zika outbreak in Latin America and the Caribbean, one of the biggest issues public health officials grappled with was how to inform the public, especially pregnant women and women of childbearing age, about the risks of the disease.
With that in mind, TEPHINET, The Task Force’s network of field epidemiology training programs, in coordination with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), recently conducted a series of communications workshops for more than 100 public health practitioners from 38 countries in the region.
The workshops are part of a broader initiative that TEPHINET is undertaking to help Latin America and the Caribbean to prevent and manage Zika outbreaks. TEPHINET is also supporting strengthened surveillance of the disease and laboratory systems to diagnose infections.
The workshops used interactive training techniques such as role-playing and scenarios to demonstrate how information about an outbreak could be swiftly shared with the public to help protect against the disease.
“Public health officials need to have the capabilities necessary to communicate effectively during a disease outbreak,” said TEPHINET Project Manager Claire Jennings, MA. “Today it might be Zika or yellow fever, but the framework and skills the participants are learning can be applied to future outbreaks so the public can take steps to protect themselves.”
The workshops also customized content based on the needs of countries in the region. For instance, in the Caribbean, materials included how to communicate to tourists about Zika.
TEPHINET will partner with the World Health Organization and CDC to incorporate the curriculum into a larger workshop in Africa next year. An online self-guided course will also be available in English on its website in June 2018.
Zika is mostly transmitted by mosquito bites and can be passed from a pregnant woman to her unborn child, which increases the risk of birth defects such as microcephaly. There are currently no vaccines or medicines for Zika.
Zika is expected to remain endemic in Latin America and the Caribbean. “Given that,” said Jennings, “these workshops are critical for building the region’s capacity for protecting their populations against emerging diseases.”