• Vol. 37 No. 6, 525–534
  • 15 June 2008

Risk Communications: In Search of a Pandemic



This paper explores the difficulties in managing risk communications in the face of uncertainty of an avian flu pandemic over a protracted period. The communications effort has also been made more difficult by the confusion and cacophony in the media and claims by experts and politicians worldwide. While Singapore secured much praise for its handling of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) just 4 years earlier which threatened its very existence as a nation-state, it also had to “unlearn” and “unfix” assumptions and mindsets that grew out of that experience. A protracted crisis of uncertainty has also raised difficult questions of sustaining public awareness and alertness. Compounding these problems is the seemingly high reliance of Singaporeans on Government to manage the crisis at all stages. Risk communications has become a crucial necessity in an increasingly troubled world and evokes contradictions for many in medicine and public health – calling on Governments to raise the alarm whilst also calming fears at the same time. It is hoped that Singapore’s experience throws up some useful lessons for other countries. The basic principles of risk communications employed are in line with the best practices adopted by many other countries. The experience may also contribute to the ongoing and somewhat contentious debate on whether the manner in which Singapore manages the information flow can be replicated or applied by other states and cultures.

The first decade of the new millennium has seen a string of disasters worldwide – earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, typhoons and acts of terrorism – bringing in its wake, scenes of utter devastation and death. Predictably, these disasters have been accompanied by public outrage, directed more often than not at governments, over the lack of resources and preparations to pre-empt and manage these crises.

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