Towards a more pandemic-resilient society

Woman wearing face mask for virus protetcion

The coronavirus is rapidly changing our lives and societies. Governments have to take well-informed and appropriate decisions for addressing and mitigating long-term consequences of COVID-19. There is a need for mechanisms to involve citizens and civil society into decision-making on pandemic management. This is especially true if the crisis becomes characterized by uncertainty and strong feelings of emergency. Topics related to power of agenda setting, information needs and human rights must be adequately addressed to preventing public distrust and keeping alive democratic criteria and societal values in a situation of a major health crises.

Decision-making and public participation in a major health crisis

That is why scientific expertise and good advice is now more valuable than ever. But good expertise can also come from non-scientific professionals and citizens. The direct link of a few hyper specialists with decision-makers can create adverse effects if not backed by mediation processes through interacting with other scientific views and societal concerns. Current knowledge about public perceptions, citizens‘ preferred sources of information and also the impact of health professionals must be taken into consideration.
From a societal perspective, COVID-19 is in the same ranks with other epidemics and pandemics such as SARS, MERS, avian flu (H5N1) or swine flu (H1N1). There is a need for mechanisms to include citizens and civil society into decision-making in a situation of a major health crisis. This is especially true if the crisis becomes particularly characterized by uncertainty and strong feelings of emergency. Topics related to power of agenda setting, information needs and human rights which must be adequately addressed to keep alive democratic criteria and societal values, including:
  • raising public awareness and creating appropriate conditions for a debate involving members of the general public as well;
  • modalities for consulting the whole Society;
  •  models for integrating all kinds of expertise in the decisional process;
  • clarification and coordination or integration of all stakeholders within the decision process (representative authorities, associative networks, townships, etc.);
  • distribution of responsibilities in situation of crisis;
  • preventing distrust in the public and addressing controversies as ‘normal elements’ and not crisis triggers;
  • keeping alive democratic criteria and societal values in major health crises, as well as ways to preserve, as much as possible, the principles of the universal declaration of human rights, in particular as regarding respect for people’s dignity and rights.

In the case of an ever-changing pandemic influenza situation, ideal communication is just not possible to achieve. Consequently, managing dynamic communication during a pandemic crisis without losing public trust is a challenging task for the public health authorities and their communication departments.  A serious pandemic is an exceptional situation which requires the setting of priorities and selective access to health resources. It requires an effort of solidarity from all levels of society. A consensus on shared values is necessary to preserve the cohesion of society.

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