Scott Ratzan, Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Health Communication: International Perspectives, and Kenneth P. Moritsugu, Professor of Global Health at the Milken Institute School of Public Health George Washington University and a retired Acting Surgeon General of the United States, discuss the importance of communication and health literacy in times of panic.
"Communication chaos" is at an all-time high with the recent Ebola crisis in Africa making its way to the US. The lack of understandable, reliable, and actionable information coming from our 24 hour news sources, social media sites, blogs and conversations is a real cause for concern. In a new editorial "Ebola Crisis -- Communication Chaos We Can Avoid" by Scott Ratzan, Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Health Communication: International Perspectives, and Kenneth P. Moritsugu, Professor of Global Health at the Milken Institute School of Public Health George Washington University and a retired Acting Surgeon General of the United States, Ratzan and Moritsugu discuss the importance of communication and health literacy in times of panic.
"Ebola -- a virus once far away from US soil -- is yet another warning that we need to establish communication preparedness," says Ratzan and Moritsugu. They note that most Americans do not get their health information from the CDC website, and do not understand that there is no risk of Ebola unless there is contact with bodily fluids of an infected and contagious patient. They also insist that the public does not need to stay home and be fearful that any flu-like symptom is the beginning of the Ebola infection, nor should they be afraid to send their children to school. "Even if a child was hugged by someone who had exposure to Ebola but did not have symptoms at the time, no one is at risk at the school or playground."
Instead, Ratzan and Moritsugu stress the need for clarity in the information we are provided about viruses like this. "Ebola is scary, but the messages to the American public need not be confusing; they need to be clear, science-based, and understandable. In the United States, a single trustworthy source -- a role that the US Surgeon General once held and still has -- would help the American public have an evidence-based, up-to-date, credible source from which they have the opportunity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services to make appropriate health decisions -- a goal of health literacy." With this type of leadership in place, our state, county, city, and local health departments could also follow evidence-based approaches and not self-impose restrictions different from trustworthy and well-thought guidelines.
"Our history documents that an informed, activated public is of utmost importance in protecting the health of the public," Ratzan and Moritsugu explain. "Likewise, an informed and activated leadership that employs health communication and diplomacy is fundamental to restoring Americans' health while building and maintaining a strong public health system."
Cite This Page: