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Are people keep pace with the latest information on emerging diseases?

Information should be transferred faster than disease. In the information era, media is an essential channel to impart knowledge.

Photo of Hezi

Written by

Early in 1947, Zika virus was identified in Uganda, but it is not until 2015 that people become aware of such disease as the increasing number of microcephaly infants in Brazil. People suffer the consequence mainly because they have inadequate knowledge about Zika virus and do not pay enough attention to it. On one hand, we do need cutting-edge science and technology to deal with unpredictable disease and severe virus. But on the other hand, we also need access to such information. In the information era, both traditional and new media should take the responsibility.

If people are not aware of such diseases, how could they be prepared to prevent it? Take me as an example; I never get more information when I participate in OpenIDEO. I was born in the North of China. The province I used to live in is not the habitation of Aedes aegypti. Before the outbreak of Zika disease, I hardly get any information about Zika virus. I ask my family and friends to find out whether they are aware of such disease and understand the damage of Zika. It turns out 10% of them know Zika but few of them has study how severe damage it can bring. I wonder that the lack of knowledge of Zika may be a cause of an increase in the number of infected victims. At the end of 2015, there were 4 million people infected by Zika, according to WHO. The obscure disease has grown into a threat to all human beings.

Undoubtedly, we rely on vaccines that help people to fight against virus. Yet it may take years for research institutions and companies to make it happen. Before that, the promising way for us to deal with it is to understand the virus, avoid being infected, and reduce the number of infants with microcephaly. No country (especially the developing country) is safe with Zika, as the globalization and interconnectivity has changed the world’s landscape.

Living in a world surrounded by explosive information, it is ironic that we even get less useful knowledge (as people tend to spend more time on entertainment programs). Mass media and social media infiltrates into people’s life at every facet. To some extent, media practitioners control the way that we familiarize with the world. If people keep pace with information on lasted diseases (viruses), the result may be different.


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Photo of Daria González

Hi Hezi, thank you for your contribution. The issue with mass media and social media coverage is definitely an important part of the challenge.

It made me think of two 'parts': first, how can we incentivize media to be more active? Should it be a plug in to your media channels, a separate 'red alert' app on your phone? A way to incentivize Facebook users to spread the word? Or may be a separate media? Lauren Kaplan posted a very interesting read on this: Leveraging Social Networks for Prevention: What We Can Learn From The HIV Epidemic & Noncommunicable Diseases 

Second, many times future pandemics emerge in the locations where people do not have internet / phone access, in rural territories - that's where there might be an opportunity to spot the early stage of the disease and start working on solutions / prevention right away. What might the solution be?  

Your post made me think of Amy and her ideas about leveraging IVR and Community Radio for those who do not have Internet or Smart Phone access (The Communications Challenge of Epidemics: How to Leverage IVR and Community Radio ) . Amy, what do you think about it?   

Photo of Hezi

Hi, Daria. Thanks for your advice. The recommended articles are very helpful. It propels me to consider possible solution to incentivize media and to deal with areas without Internet or phone access. Like advertisements, official propaganda should have target group. Before releasing videos or information of Zika, we should find out who care most about Zika. Once they are activated, they become the ‘media’ to expanding Zika knowledge.

Question1: Who care most?
(1) People who intend to go travelling or business trips to the affected areas,
(2) Pregnant women
(3) Medical workers and patients

Question 2: Which media platform is most effective?
(1) Facebook
(2) Twitter
(3) Quora

When the target group is identified and the media platform is selected, we build online communities to encourage people to take part in and provide Q&A column. But merely relying on online communities is not enough. To reach a wide range of audience, I think the best way to relate Zika knowledge with popular culture. For instance, we can design an episode concerning Zika virus for Big Bang. We use celebrities to promote Zika information. And if possible, we implant Zika information like implanting advertisements in movies. Unlike commercial activities, propaganda needs funds from government and intergovernmental institutions.

I agree with your point ‘future pandemics emerge in the locations where people do not have Internet access.’ And these territories are usually in poverty. Amy’s idea of using IVR and community radio is effective and practical. If people in these areas lack personal devices, such as phones or laptops, local government should provide access to information of Zika virus. From my point of view, poverty and disease are in a vicious cycle. When people are able to feed themselves, they care less about well-being. If people in these areas cannot find a possible solution to shake off poverty, the likelihood of epidemic disease outbreaks remains high. The short-term solutions should be practical and effective, but I think the long-term solutions should focus on the big picture. In the later research, I will use empirical research to examine the idea and refine my point.

Photo of Daria González

Hi Hezi, I think you are ideating in a right direction. 

I loved your thought on target groups. You identified Zika target groups, but if we think big picture - future potential health threats might have different / amplified target groups. Is there a way to create a platform that would identify (may be automatically?) target audience every time and 'regroup' people? Is there a way to create a platform that would be able to 'redesign' itself for different health threats (language, target audience, preventative measures)? For instance, most of the travelers at least to my experience underestimate the danger of the virus and the moment they are remember about it is at the airport - when they are asked if they came from the country of virus. For instance, that happened to me in Cuba when I was asked wether I traveled to Africa in the past three months. Even given that I read about Ebola before and was aware of the disease, I was completely put off by this question - I did not remember about it, so the officer had to tell me 'it's because of the Ebola virus'. Many people know about it but don't believe it might happen to them and sometimes we perceive the 'suggested measures' poster that we see in the airports as just one more annoying set of rules we have to fulfill in order to pass through the control. Is there a way to for e.g. target individuals who just bought tickets to the 'quarantene country' and send them a push notification with preventative measures (I haven't seen it to be done, at least not in my personal experience). 

Photo of Hezi

Hi, Daria. Thanks again for your advice.
Based on comments I received, I think information spreading should be classified into three types. The first type of propaganda should target the general audience, who may have little knowledge about Zika virus or live in places without Aedes aegypti. We could design an episode about Zika virus for Big Bang. We use celebrities to promote Zika information. And if possible, we implant Zika information like implanting advertisements in movies. The second type of propaganda should provide more professional advice, such as protection measurements and treatment, targeting stakeholders, such as pregnant women, international travellers (who plan or has already been to affected areas), and family of patients. Based on the database of social networking sites, the right group can be accurately targeted. The third type of propaganda focuses on people who live in places without Internet access. I agree with Amy’s idea of using IVR and community radio, which is practical and effective. 

Photo of Nikhil Gangaraju

Hi Hezi,

agree that one of the challenges today is getting the right information to communities that can potentially stop the spread of diseases such as Zika. I do feel that in the case of Zika, the social/mainstream media has done a  decent job in communicating the threats once they became well known in some of the host countries. What I will say to your point is that there was less awareness from the beginning about Zika that led to the initial outbreaks. So I guess the question is how can we use social media to understand and communicate emerging threats before they turn into outbreaks. Thats definitely a tough question to answer Minh Nguyen any thoughts?

Photo of Hezi

Hi Nikhil,
Thanks for your opinion.

You pose a good question that how media can prevent emerging threats from turning into outbreaks. I think we could figure out a solution that attracts people’s attention. The possible way to attract the audience is to relate such issues with popular culture, such as science fiction, movies, or TV programs.

Photo of Amy

I agree with Nikhil that the news media and social media is often quite engaged in covering epidemics that affect or threaten to affect the local population. In fact, the problem is often how to avoid the tendency toward sensationalist coverage. Though it is difficult to get the public to take appropriate preventative measures if they are not scared into action.

Where I can see lack of coverage being an issue is in tightly controlled media environments when political actors have an interest in suppressing negative news stories. How to deal with those situations is more of a political issue than anything else…

Of course, the other issue thatDaria raises is how to reach those without internet and TV access. I do think IVR and community radio stations can be used effectively to educate people about preventative measures they can take. Would be curious to hear other ideas as well to reach this population!

Photo of Bahenda Joseph

Hi Hezi,
Pleased to meet you on this platform, and thank you for your input. I just wanted to say that many people who have contributed on this topic so far have raised the same concern like you: the Awareness about zika. Now the question is, what's next? To wait for the WHO, the local governements to take the lead or just take action ourselves and make Zika known to the public?

Best regards,


Photo of Hezi

Thanks for your opinion, Joseph. It is absolutely important that how we raise the public awareness towards Zika.

Indeed, the official propaganda is essential to impart knowledge of Zika, as local governments and WHO provide professional opinions of such virus. But I think people seem more attracted to popular stars or entertainment rather than official propaganda. I wonder if some popular TV programs can implant Zika information just as putting implanted ads in movies or entertainment programs. A lot of movies features plagues, disasters, or biological hazards. The audience seem very attracted to them. Maybe we could work on this idea. For instance, scriptwriters may use Zika as a lead. Celebrities share their ideas about Zika on TV or radio. These public figures have more power in attracting the public attention than common people.

Photo of Bahenda Joseph

Hello Hezi,
By intuition (I do not possess statistics) Zika/Malaria develop most in rural areas with no rigorous application of the sanitation laws. I assume that most of the people in the cities are more or less aware of Zika. They have access to the TV, and Internet, they can watch news, commercials and spots. Most Billboards hang in the cities, newspapers are generally spread in the cities. Furthermore, mosquitoes develop in stagnant water, they infest ponds, marshes, swamps and other dark places like in bush.
Most of the time, clean cities do not house as many of these mosquito habitats as villages.
Getting back to your input, celebrities can evidently contribute in communicating Zika. However, the action should be coordinated by officials backed by health organizations like WHO, Red Cross, and other health professionals. If all the hospitals and health centres could issue flyers talking about Zika, the awareness would be quickly increased.
You should understand that the awareness is not sufficient to curb the epidemic. More measures need to be taken by the housing corporations, better apply the environment management, and further promote education especially in countries with higher rates of illiteracy.  
Thank you again for your contribution.