Risk Communication in epidemics builds upon social science principles by listening to what people say, think and do about disease. Engagement with communities is key to achieving positive behavioral change as it proactively incorporates the aspirations, concerns, needs and values of citizens and communities into decision-making processes; and establishes ongoing partnerships with communities to ensure that the community’s priorities and values continue to shape services and the service system. This partnership process aims to make better decisions that are supported by the community and result in better outcomes for both the community and the agencies.
There is limited social science research on public health interventions relating to hemorrhagic fevers in the West African sub region. Recent outbreaks of Lassa fever in Nigeria have highlighted the need to change this and preliminary research was undertaken to study human practices that might support control efforts or which could be exacerbating the spread of disease. Risk communication professionals usually want to gain an understanding of what people already know about a disease before they design their interventions. There are many different ways to do this, although sometimes, especially in an outbreak situation, the need for detailed information has to be balanced with the importance of responding quickly and ensuring people’s safety.
Anthropological and other in-depth qualitative methods provide detailed information about people’s perceptions of disease and responses to outbreaks, but also about the context (present and past) that can drive some actions (including of those delivering interventions as well as affected populations). In contrast, Knowledge, Attitude and Practice (KAP) studies offer a relatively static picture of the situation under analysis, and their results need to be read with caution, but they can be carried out quickly and provide a starting point for understanding community concerns. Most of the resources currently available for understanding public health campaigns around Lassa fever in Nigeria are KAP studies. To our knowledge, there is no in-depth research about the reception of public health campaigns for Lassa fever in Nigeria and no research of any kind related to public health campaigns for Lassa fever in other affected countries.
Policy Relevant Findings:
- Communities are part of the response and not something to control
- Social science helps us understand how people’s concerns about disease are linked to specific contexts. Risk communication and community engagement must respond to these context-specific concerns.
- Social Science research can be conducted as part of ongoing public health campaigns and during epidemics to to facilitate outbreak response actions