Lab Matters Winter 2023 | Page 19

FEATURE public health into the cycle of active disinformation that has been going on in other arenas for decades ,” such as politics , he said .
Active disinformation is an organized effort to push back against governmental views and actions . In public health , Kyriacopoulos said , “ it really came to the fore during the COVID-19 response with all of the suggestions that the pandemic wasn ’ t a big deal ; that you didn ’ t need to pay attention to anything that scientists were saying ”— especially those from governmental organizations . Disinformation , by design , seeds confusion , which leads to distrust . Ultimately , it hinders the effective delivery of public health services .
In such an environment , it ’ s critical to “ present accurate facts in an accessible way so that people can understand ,” he said , with simple , consistent narratives that can cut through a swirl of noise . “ I think it is really going to call on all of us to tighten our language skills and our collaborations so that there is a very solid , unified front ” from public health organizations across all levels of government and beyond .
But it became clear early in the pandemic that the American public did not have a clear understanding of what public health was or did , said Brian C . Castrucci , DrPH , president and CEO of the de Beaumont Foundation . As federal agencies issued guidance , it was often left up to local officials , the media or even the general public to interpret what those statements meant for people ’ s lives and actions . “
America ’ s Health , the PHCC launched as a centralized communications hub to produce timely , science-based public health messages and resources and coordinate their dissemination to health departments and agencies throughout the country .
Over time , the group expanded its efforts to include misinformation alerts about worrying trends and messages , said Monroe . “ In today ’ s world , there needs to be incredible diligence .”
From Information to Communication
The challenge is further compounded by an erosion of public trust in health information from government officials during the pandemic .
To ensure people hear and — crucially — believe you , it ’ s imperative to establish yourself as a voice of authority and source of valuable , trustworthy information . One piece of this is to be as transparent as possible about what you know and how , as well as the expectation that recommendations may change as better science becomes available , said Wroblewski . It ’ s best to assume people are unfamiliar with public health and may need extra context . Wroblewski tries to align herself with her audience . “ I have the same desire for answers ,” she said . “ I can share how I think about things day-to-day , how I decide when to test , what I tell my family and friends and what I ’ m doing to keep myself and my family safe . But I can also speak to how new information changes my thinking .”
“ Our health officers … have an opportunity now to be heard . My advice to everyone is start by listening ,” said Monroe . Intentional listening lets you take the pulse of your community and understand what people are feeling and experiencing and what they need from you . If people are angry or frustrated , for example , that ’ s where you need to start , she said . “ When you listen intentionally , they will have messages for you that you can translate into really productive communications .”
To resonate , communications need to acknowledge the reality of people ’ s lives , Castrucci noted . This is especially true when public messages from experts about how people should be living their lives may seem out of touch . The recommendation to stay home if you ’ re sick may seem straightforward . But missing work has high consequences for some people , Castrucci said . “ If the choice was either I get someone sick , or my kids don ’ t eat , I ’ m getting you sick .”
He recommends embracing the human side , balancing messages about case counts and school closings with empathetic messages . “ I know this is hard . But I believe this is the right thing for our community ,” he said . “ We will get through it . We will band together as this community always has .”
If we can ’ t effectively communicate what public health is , how are we ever expecting legislators and the public and business leaders to understand ?” Castrucci said . “ Our strength would be in having a consistent set of messages that were vetted and tested .”
In summer 2020 , that collective sense among public health leaders spurred the creation of the Public Health Communications Collaborative ( PHCC ). Initially founded by the CDC Foundation , de Beaumont Foundation and Trust for
Advocacy efforts at both federal and state levels have boosted government funding for public health . The American Rescue Plan included $ 7.6 billion for public health workforce . And this year in Indiana , coordinated communication efforts helped lead to a 1,500 % increase in public health funding .
APHL . org
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