During a public health crisis, people want timely, accurate, and trustworthy information and guidance from public health authorities. They want to know the magnitude of the issue, what risks they face, and what they need to do to protect themselves.

As the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded, public health authorities worldwide struggled with this mandate. To ensure that public health authorities are more prepared when the next crisis occurs, the Uganda National Institute of Public Health (UNIPH) organized and hosted a workshop on risk and crisis communication, with support from Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Data fFor Health Initiative (D4H). Pascale Krumm, a Scientific Communication Specialist, led the 3-day workshop under the Data Impact (DI) Program, which was held from December 4-6, 2023, in Kampala, Uganda. Thirteen participants attended the workshop, including Advanced Field Epidemiology Fellows, laboratory leadership fellows, and selected UNIPH staff.

The main goal of the workshop was to improve the ability of public health officials to use the tools of risk communication to respond to disease outbreaks and other public health emergencies more rapidly and effectively. The workshop addressed the challenges and opportunities that arise during public health emergencies and provided techniques to handle both, using real-life public health emergencies as illustrations and case studies. Topics covered included how to develop and deliver the right messages to target audiences, the psychology of a crisis, how to interact with the media, how to be an effective spokesperson, how to deal with misinformation and disinformation, and how to develop a crisis communication plan.

The training was a mix of didactic sessions and group activities where participants put into practice what they learned. Participants were split into four groups with each group working on a different (real or hypothetical) public health issue in their country. The four topics chosen were depression among Uganda adolescents, the increase of boda boda (taxi motorcycles) accidents in Kampala, floods and landslides in rural communities, and a measles outbreak. Each group conducted an audience analysis, created public health messages, conducted a “mock” media interview, and outlined a communication plan. Each group also presented their work to the entire class for feedback.

Paul Okello, the DI Country Coordinator at the UNIPH, remarked that, “this training will contribute significantly to Uganda's ability to manage crises effectively. The skills we learned in the workshop will ensure that, in times of crisis, important information reaches the public in a clear and timely manner, fostering trust and cooperation among all stakeholders.”

In a survey sent out after the workshop, participants reacted positively to the training, reporting that that they would be able to use the methods, skill and techniques presented to help them in their work. Among the remarks, people commented that “The training was so practical and fruitful. The case studies were very relevant for my learning,” and “The activities and exercises were great and helped me understand risk and crisis communication better.”

UNIPH trainers who attended the training will cascade the training to other staff at UNIPH and the wider network of ministry of health, and One Health partners.