Communication to Save Lives and Protect LivelihoodsTo save lives and protect livelihoods, FAO considers communication an integral component of the global avian influenza prevention and control strategy.
FAO's activities play a fundamental role in the international struggle to avoid, or at least prepare for, a human pandemic and therefore works closely with the other UN agencies to ensure that its messages do not contradict but rather complement the others.
UNICEF has been charged with taking the global lead on communications and other supportive measures that inform, educate and enable families and communities to protect themselves from illness and death caused by HPAI. FAO guides UNICEF's communications activities with advice based on its wide range of technical expertise.
In terms of public information, FAO's basic message is that the response to the crisis should be centred on containing, if not eradicating, the disease among animals as the best way of reducing the global risk to human health, and of protecting the livelihoods of millions of small farmers. In this context, FAO works closely with the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).
FAO's core team for combating avian influenza - the Emergency Centre for Transboundary Animal Diseases (ECTAD) - has begun working on the design of a strategic communication framework and plan in support of FAO's Global Programme for the Control and Eradication of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI). The plan emphasises the important role communication can play in achieving the objectives of the technical avian influenza programme.
For its own regional and sub-regional offices, FAO has prepared key messages for different audiences - ranging from poultry keepers, veterinarians, traders and culling teams to the general public - regarding recommended best practices to follow that will minimise the risk of spreading avian flu (see Proteja a las aves de corral - Proteja a las personas). These messages are intended as advice concerning the types of messages that should be used by countries and, where necessary, adapted to fit local situations.
In the context of cooperation with other agencies, FAO, WHO and UNICEF organised an ad hoc meeting in Geneva in March 2006 to identify priority behaviours and the necessary enabling factors, in the campaign to control avian influenza. The meeting agreed that communication about behavioural interventions would have to be adjusted as more evidence becomes available regarding the spread of the virus in birds and the specific risk factors that have led to human infection.
FAO has recently recruited and established two teams of communication specialists, one at FAO headquarters in Rome, and the other at the FAO Regional Office for Asia-Pacific in Bangkok (RAP). The headquarters team consists of an information officer, a communication for development specialist and a web specialist. The RAP team consists of a reporting and communication officer and an information officer (currently assigned to Jakarta).
IThe teams have developed and initiated several streams of advocacy and communication work, focusing on animal health issues, avian influenza prevention and control measures, and socio-economics/livelihoods issues.
Key activities to date, including work-in-progress, are:
- development and dissemination of key messages and information on the prevention and control of HPAI, with a focus on the most at risk populations, as well as the media, frontline extension-workers, the scientific community, and ministries of agriculture and livestock.
- participating in backstopping and technical assistance missions; rapid country assessment missions; and providing communication input to training workshops.
- building and strengthening partnerships with UNICEF, WHO, the World Bank, NGOs, specialised communication agencies, poultry producers, farmer associations and communication teams of Ministries of Agriculture in various countries.
- providing technical input and partnering in the development of inter-agency communication toolkits, guides and materials.
- contributing to the development of communication research/evaluation methodologies, and community based surveys and participatory action research studies on AI; and
- development of a global strategic communication framework and plan based on emerging lessons, to support the FAO-OIE Global Strategy.
To date, these have primarily been supportive activities, of an emergency nature, driven by requests from a number of countries in various regions (Southeast Asia, Africa, Central Asia, and Europe), and other avian influenza partners (including UNICEF, WHO and the World Bank).
The supportive interventions have helped countries, and agriculture ministries in particular, to recognise the need to strengthen rapidly communication capacities, and as far as possible, develop communication strategies which are evidence-based.
Much work remains to be done in the area of communications. There is a need to enhance public engagement in order to stop HPAI at its source and thereby potentially avoid a human pandemic. Most national communication plans have been in the nature of outbreak crisis response and evidence has shown that perception of risk drops rapidly after the immediate crisis is over. Communication strategies are needed to address animal health issues (especially regarding biosecurity and production practices that control the spread of HPAI from flock to flock and wild birds to domestic poultry), deep-rooted socio-cultural and livelihood practices and longer-term socio-economic implications. All these messages need to be effectively delivered and consistently communicated to those who need it most.
Working towards this goal, FAO aims to strengthen its communications team through the deployment of additional resources (human and financial), as well as expanding the scope of its strategic partnership with UNICEF, WHO and other specialist communication agencies, at global, regional and national levels, to provide technical assistance to high-priority countries in the development, implementation, management and evaluation of large-scale communication campaigns.