In a new report on Zika in four Central American countries – Honduras, El Salvador, Dominican Republic and Guatemala – the Health Communication Capacity Collaborative (HC3) offers recommendations for improving the social and behavior change communication (SBCC) response to the virus. HC3 visited the four countries in March and April 2016 to quickly take the pulse of the Zika situation and the local response.
After HC3 teams met with stakeholders from the public, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and private sectors in each country, it was determined all four could benefit from technical assistance to develop or refine national Zika communication strategies. Those strategies should be developed and implemented with key partners to ensure greater consistency of prevention messages in implementation and community outreach.
“The most effective way to ensure that both political and technical stakeholders buy into the strategy and messages is to include them as part of the design process,” the report said, noting that those stakeholders include the Ministry of Health; non-governmental organizations and others working in SBCC, community mobilization and advocacy; university and/or research representatives; and those responsible for family planning distribution and placement.
Each country should consider conducting rapid formative research within communities to better understand the myths and perceptions around Zika and other mosquito-borne diseases. That research should also explore knowledge, attitudes, and perceptions of vector control outreach workers, community mobilizers, and service providers to better incorporate them as both a target audience and message disseminators in Zika communication activities.
Messaging around Zika should focus on controlling breeding sites for Aedes aegypti, the mosquito responsible not only for Zika, but also dengue and chikungunya disease. Messages should promote a shared responsibility for keeping the mosquito population down, as well as motivational messages to position mosquito-borne illnesses as something not inevitable. The report also recommends more attention on family planning messaging to address sexual transmission of Zika. Messaging for pregnant women or those thinking about having children in the near future could be improved and more integrated into counseling and outreach opportunities.