A PHS 795 student makes an important point about the importance of clear communication in population health (and indeed all science of public interest):
I initially was looking through NPR and what was in the headlines when this article caught my eye. I was going to summarize on the update of Zika that the article mentions, but as I read it, I actually noticed two larger populations health issues. In the first part of the course, multiple lecturers touched on the responsibility of researchers to make their work clearly understood to the public and our “academic oath” in doing good research that helps the greater good, or population health as the case may be. So when I read an article titled “Zika No Longer Global ‘Health Emergency,’ WHO Declares”, I assumed it meant that Zika had finally stopped spreading or was no longer as much of a crisis as it had been. So I was very surprised that when I kept reading, the third paragraph is:
“‘It is really important that we communicate this very clearly: We are not downgrading the importance of Zika,’ Salama says. ‘In fact, by placing this as a longer term program of work, we’re sending the message that Zika is here to stay. And WHO’s response is here to stay, in a robust manner.’ One thing is clear: Zika is still spreading. And microcephaly cases are still growing. ”
To me, these two things are contradictory. It appears the researchers made an effort to clarify their statements, but somehow it was still lost in the headline. With respect to population health, when headlines like these make the news (that are somewhat the opposite of what the research says), public support for health programs often diminishes which just exacerbates the health issues in the first place. These leads to the second issue: when support for public health programs declines, it is often people who are most at risk that feel the effects first.
The article mentions that pregnant women are most at risk and from my prior knowledge, I believe it is often women from poorer areas So then people with low socio-economic status are the ones who will first and foremost feel the adverse effects of misreporting research. I believe this is one example of how there needs to be better communication between research and the rest of the world.