As the threat of bird flu once again confronts Europe and Central Asia, an International Symposium on how governments can better manage emergency health situations has started in the capital of Ukraine. For three days Ukrainian and Moldovan high level government officials will discuss the organization and implementation of crisis communication campaigns in the context of a possible Avian Influenza pandemic.

While Avian Influenza – or bird flu – is now better understood, most countries of the former Soviet bloc would not be ready for a full-scale pandemic (human-to-human transmission). Seven of the nine H5N1 deaths in the region have been children, so getting the right message to families is critical.

The symposia take place within the framework of the UN System Influenza Coordinator (UNSIC) in close collaboration with WHO, USAID, European Comission, European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and other partners.

“Preparedness and timeliness are watchwords in the fight to contain and confront Avian and Pandemic Influenza,” said Maria Calivis, UNICEF Regional Director for Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CEE/CIS). “We are very grateful to the Government of Japan for making these most important symposia possible.”

Ministers, deputy ministers and their press officers will be attending the symposia. On the final day, decision-makers in the media – owners, managers, editors and journalists – will be invited to take part.

Relations between the media and many governments of the region suffer from a post-Soviet legacy of mistrust and lack of transparency, often compounded by less desirable effects of the free market. A “meet the media” session will underscore the necessity for a clear, open and honest relationship between government and media and the important part the media has to play in the event of a national health emergency.

The seminars will cover both internal and external crisis communication flows and communication chains of command within government and within a country. They will draw on lessons learnt from the BSE (mad cow) and foot and mouth crises in the UK and the current bird flu outbreak there, among others.

UNICEF will be urging governments to test their communication machine when undertaking broader nationwide simulation exercises for pandemic influenza.

The Symposium is organized by UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) in collaboration with WHO (World Health Organization) and with financial support of the Government of Japan and USAID (United States Agency for International Development).


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