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Good health communication is key to public health

The Covid pandemic has underscored that effective communication is at the heart of winning any public health challenge. For example, almost as important as the decision to increase the Covishield dosing gap to 12-16 weeks is the work of reassuring citizens that this is protective and so were the four-weekly jabs, and afterwards everyone has to stay masked up. Authorities aren’t just fighting Covid-related morbidities, there is also an infodemic cutting both ways: Awareness and misinformation.

Social media is awash with treatment protocols based on prescriptions from doctors to their patients. These aren’t universal or sanction for self-medication. Yet countless cases of patients self-administering steroids prematurely have surfaced. Fake remedies flooding WhatsApp are just as insidious. Even the US is struggling with effective communication: The latest CDC guidelines to drop masking for those fully vaccinated come barely two weeks after advising against it in crowded spaces. Health communication was instrumental in frustrating HIV-AIDS spread. But to date Covid is being considered just another “fever” by many rural Indians struggling against it. Bridging this unacceptable information divide is essential.

With rampant infections, Indians need more clear and persuasive guidance. Confusion among doctors on convalescent plasma has pushed families of patients to hellish exhaustion. Doctors’ forums like IMA could have averted this mess. Convincing a large society to undertake collective preventive measures requires sustained public interventions. The daily press briefings by Union health ministry and ICMR officials, which helped disseminate key information at the pandemic’s start in March-April 2020, must restart. Science is constantly learning and updating itself as it tracks the fast-evolving virus and authorities are grappling with unprecedented uncertainties in this process. But bringing citizens and all stakeholders aboard their decisions is crucial for achieving the desired health outcomes.



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This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.



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