“Risk communications” has acquired some importance in the wake of our experience of SARS. Handled well, it helps to build mutual respect between a government or an organisation and the target groups with which it is communicating. It helps nurture public trust and confidence in getting over the crisis. The World Health Organization (WHO) has also come to recognise its importance after SARS and organised the first Expert Consultation on Outbreak Communications conference in Singapore in September 2004. This article assesses the context and the key features which worked to Singapore’s advantage. Looking at the data now widely available on the Internet of the experience of SARS-infected countries like China, Taiwan, Canada, the article identifies the key areas of strategic communications in which Singapore fared particularly well. Another issue discussed is whether Singapore’s experience has universal applicability or whether it is limited because of Singapore’s unique cultural, historical and geographical circumstances. Finally, the article also looks at some of the post-SARS enhancements that have been put in place following the lessons learnt from SARS and the need to confront new infectious outbreaks like avian flu.
In the short span of 3 years since SARS first appeared on the Asian landscape, terms like “risk communications” and “outbreak communications” have assumed greater import and found common usage in the lexicon of governance by public health systems in our part of the world.
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