A research study conducted in Cape Town indicated that in every third taxi in the city someone has Tuberculosis (TB). Essentially, TB is a bacterial disease that often affects the lungs. It can also affect other parts of the body such as the bones, kidneys and lymph nodes. TB is usually spread through the air especially by an individual who might be suffering from untreated coughs or sneezes; therefore the rate of infection is higher in crowded areas like rooms or cars. This study clearly indicates that a very high percentage of the public is exposed to TB so it is very important that the public be educated and informed on the various ways of keeping themselves safe and free from infection.
The response to the TB outbreak from the public health officials in South Africa was very rapid and they did a very remarkable job in tracking the origin of the disease. Most officials adopted the classical way of handling the epidemic. An investigation was set up to determine the travel, vaccination and contact histories of the infected individuals 2 to 12 weeks before the onset of the condition and during the period when symptoms were detected. If the affected individuals had travelled to another region or country, the officials had to confirm whether TB was common in that region. The officials also had to look for other suspicious cases of TB in all the regions visited by the affected individuals and people with whom he/she had contact with in the 12 weeks before the first signs of the condition. Additionally, the officials collected samples from all the suspected and affected individuals which were sent to laboratories for analysis.
This case clearly brings to fore the importance of crisis management in the event of any disease outbreak. Different strategies can be implemented to alleviate or manage the situation. To manage and stop the crisis developing further, the strategy undertaken by the officials should also incorporate steps which take into account communications management. Some of the most important steps in crisis communication management in this case are:
1. Identifying reliable spokespersons tasked with the role of passing all the relevant communications to the public.
2. Developing a notification system that will enable them to reach all the affected and at risk groups rapidly using various modalities.
3. Coming up with a crisis anticipation strategy to enable public health officials to identify and mitigate all the potential TB outbreaks that can occur.
4. Identifying various specific crisis messages necessary for the given situation.
To sum up, communication is indeed at the heart of managing health related crises. Public health officials and practitioners recognize intuitively that communication plays a crucial role in averting or managing healthcare related problems. Crisis communication can help practitioners diagnose patients’ symptoms. Using different communication tools, public health officials are able to give timely and relevant information to the societies or communities at risk. It also means that researchers are in a position to readily exchange data as they seek to establish the etiology of a disease.
* Coombs, T. (2011). Ongoing crisis communication: Planning, managing, and responding. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications Inc.
* Fischer, H. W. (2010). Response to Disaster. Lanham, MD: University Press of America.