was an opportunity for the human and animal-concerned communities to work together and to better integrate the challenge of communicating with governments and the public while they responded to a crisis.
At the same time, however, another participant noted, “We have told the world a pandemic is coming, a pandemic is coming, and it hasn’t happened.” Public attention has waned, and this illustrates the importance of “thinking carefully about addressing people’s concerns, especially nonscientific concerns.” Public and political attention generally flows to a crisis.
The challenge of communication is not simply a matter of public relations, as several participants noted. It is the primary tool for tackling major objectives, such as changing behaviors to reduce public health risks. Understanding the needs and characteristics of a community can be critical to communicating effectively about human and animal health risks, and progress is being made in this area. A participant cited the example of WHO, which uses expertise from anthropology and risk communications to go into the field and explain the measures that need to be taken.
A variety of factors complicate the pursuit of the goal of improved communication and information exchange.
Many disease surveillance and reporting systems are in place, but the sheer volume of effort required to keep up with the flow of information can sometimes be dauting. As one participant observed, “Sometimes when you are in the field you just want to work, and you don’t want to send a report every night, and you don’t want to have 20 calls or e-mails coming in on your phone. This is something that we have to manage.”
Intellectual property issues are another significant challenge to improved information sharing. Competition among disciplinary fields, as well as the pressure individual researchers and research teams may feel to publish their own results, are counter-pressures to the benefits of sharing samples and data that others could use. With regard to reporting and sharing information, however, one participant suggested that there are really two separate questions. The first is whether epidemiological information that is collected should be submitted to a national or an international entity. The second is whether the data that are collected in the course of an outbreak will be shared with other researchers or organizations.
The sharing of agents, resources, and data is another gap related to the “upstream research agenda” and can be important not just for responding to an immediate crisis, but also for ensuring that longer term research challenges are met. An example from activities of the World Bank illustrates this challenge. The Bank’s program for making “advance market commitments” involved the private sector to make sure that a necessary drug or diagnostic test can be developed without undue risk to the drug companies.