Governments across Africa have been urged to prioritize Risk Communication and Community Engagement (RCCE) and Social Behavioral Change (SBC) in the management of public health emergencies and in preparing for future pandemics. This call for action, including the mobilization of adequate financial and technical resources, emerged from a side event titled ‘Strengthening the Continental Risk Communication and Community Engagement (RCCE) and Social Behaviour Change (SBC) Architecture: Preparing Communities for the Next Pandemic’ at the 3rd International Conference on Public Health in Africa (CPHIA 2023) in Lusaka, Zambia,Daily Trust reports.

Hosted by the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa-CDC), CPHIA is a significant global public health event attended by political leaders from across the continent and global figures. This year’s edition drew 5,000 in-person participants and about 20,000 virtual attendees between November 27 and 30, 2023.

During the side event, health and communication experts, researchers, and African Union media fellows emphasized the need for a shift in focus to address community-specific issues during public health emergencies. Dr. Da Costa Aboagye, Chair of Public Health Risk Communication and Community Engagement Community of Practice for Africa (PH-RCCE-CoPA), stressed that past responses had insufficiently prioritized risk communication, and the current realities in African countries indicated a lack of attention to this crucial aspect.

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Aboagye highlighted lessons learned from previous outbreaks, such as the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and the COVID-19 pandemic, emphasizing the importance of engaging and listening to affected communities. He urged prioritizing financial resources for risk communication and community engagement, warning against the potential consequences of neglecting these pillars in future pandemics.

The side event included panel discussions covering key areas such as strengthening RCCE and SBC leadership, advancing synergy and coordination at national and continental levels, developing a workforce for efficient pandemic preparedness and response, and sharing experiences to identify gaps in RCCE/SBC during outbreak response.

Insights from research presented during the event emphasized the importance of considering vulnerable populations in research strategies, particularly women, mothers, and children. The panelists called for a change in research approaches to facilitate the participation of key priority groups and emphasized the need for effective communication strategies to convey scientific information to the public.

In conclusion, stakeholders were advised to build capacity at community, district, national, and regional levels through effective RCCE and SBC mechanisms, preparing ahead for future pandemics. The use of technology in risk communication research was acknowledged, with a caution to ensure inclusivity and avoid leaving a significant portion of the population without access to information.

The side event provided a platform for dialogue on breaking barriers and repositioning Africa in the global health architecture, aligning with the broader theme of the CPHIA 2023 conference. The Director General of Africa-CDC, Dr. Jean Kaseya, highlighted the need to acknowledge Africa’s contributions to global health security and emphasized the importance of Africans playing key roles in international health organizations.


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