Whether it is SARS, H1N1, Ebola, or, now, the Zika virus, emerging infectious diseases continue to challenge public health experts. Often, when a new outbreak begins, treatments and vaccines aren’t yet available. Sometimes communication is all we have to effectively respond in real time to contain emergency health threats.

The Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs provides expertise on strategic health communication focusing on prevention measures, preparedness, containment, crisis management and risk communication during an emerging disease outbreak.

Before significant international assistance arrived in West Africa during the early days of the 2014 Ebola outbreak, for example, CCP and others engaged village chiefs, and community and religious leaders to provide accurate information they could share with their communities about the disease, stigma, prevention and treatment. Quickly created materials grounded in evidence were used to correct misinformation and rumors, and provide credible up-to-the-minute facts. Before it was contained, the outbreak claimed thousands of lives, but many more were saved when people learned that to stay healthy they had to wash their hands, not handle the sick and take specific measures to bury the dead without spreading Ebola to others.

These experiences show the importance of being prepared to contain and prevent future outbreaks. Whatever the next global pandemic, the job of public health experts is to keep millions from getting sick and economies from being crippled. And CCP’s strategic communication work is critical to making that happen.