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OP-ED: Better communication strategies for the pandemic

  • Published at 08:35 pm August 4th, 2020

The things we need to take into account for effective communication

Almost everyone involved in media is familiar with the concepts of disaster communication or crisis communication. These are very popular topics in the Western academic curriculum of media and communication.

But what is happening in the world due to coronavirus has made it theoretically difficult to call it a disaster or a temporary crisis. It is probably appropriate to call it a catastrophe. As might be expected, the patterns of communication during this catastrophic period, and the communication strategies, should be different for understandable reasons.

The communication aspects of Covid-19 have been widely discussed in the last six or more months. The epidemic of information about coronavirus which is called infodemic as well as the issues of fake news are so widely discussed now that I do not want to revisit them. 

We have seen that in the beginning, some experts expressed the opinion that the coronavirus will not attack in tropical countries. As we had hoped so in this country, many expatriate Bangladeshis hurriedly left for the country. As a result of this misinformation, coronavirus spread to different parts of the country very rapidly. Bangladesh then had very little preparation to deal with it. 

Since then, many such issues were communicated to the general people, like the use of masks to various contradictory treatment protocols on Covid-19. These are constantly confusing people. But it would not be wise to blame anyone for that. When such an epidemic occurs every hundred years, it is difficult for anyone to suggest a pragmatic solution.

I see in the mainstream media and on social media that many doctors, teachers, journalists, writers, and social workers in our country are engaged in massive advocacy programs on different aspects of Covid-19. They certainly deserve our praise. However, our main concern is that they would take proper communication strategies to convey their messages. 

A new strategy

If we are to formulate the Covid-19 management strategies from a communication point of view, we need to discuss three issues at once. First, creating an overall awareness of coronavirus and preventing its spread in any way. Secondly, to save the lives of the poor people those who live from hand to mouth. Thirdly, maintaining normal medical care for millions of non-corona patients.     

If we look back, we would see that we had focused on the first strategy, which resulted in more suffering for the poor and non-corona patients. In no way can it be called a successful communication or advocacy strategy.   

That reminds us of the very first principle of communication -- when it comes to communicating or advocating with the common people, we need to consider their social, economic, as well as cultural characteristics. 

We belong to collectivist culture; mutual physical touch is one of the means of expressing our emotions. Here we have a big difference with the West. The reason for the reluctance of a section of the people to adhere to the social distancing norms is hidden in these characteristics of our people. 

So, messages for people should be crafted accordingly. Again, our economic situation is also different from developed countries. We cannot employ the same kind of communication strategies here. 

If we review the Covid-19 situation at the moment, we need to take appropriate communication strategies in several areas. Different parts of Bangladesh have now affected by monsoon floods. Fever and diarrhea are seen in flood victims.  Moreover, the number of dengue patients is increasing with Covid-19 ones. The symptoms of these diseases are similar. A massive campaign is needed to make the people aware of this.  

Many have left the city for Eid holidays and gone to their village homes. Transportation has been limited due to the floods. If someone falls ill in a village home, it would be difficult for them to go to the hospital or the doctor.

In this context, we would suggest from a communication point of view that Covid-19 management protocols, from mild to critical patients, should be made public in the media. People in small clinics, pharmacists, care-givers should know the prescription drugs and their usages so that they can at least give it a go for the patients who may not get access to hospitals due to floods. 

During the pandemic, we are seeing the spread of virtual advocacy. If we want to give effective messages to the people we must understand the emotions and realities of their life. Again the messages have to be short, direct. Let me give an example. Many doctors and people from different advocacy groups share various videos related to coronavirus on social media, while many other attempt to make people aware through their writings. But most of the cases the messages are unnecessarily long, which a person in a remote area may not have the time or opportunity to watch or read.

In these difficult times, many people do not have the opportunity to buy data to use the internet. So the speech or writing should be shortened, the main points should be said first so that everyone can get the necessary information within a very short time. 

The communication strategies of Third World countries must be different from those of Western countries. More often than not, we fail to acknowledge this reality and we see that the results of our communication strategies are not up to the expected standards.  

Md Shamsul Islam is a media consultant and a newspaper columnist. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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