By Pranab Chatterjee
Communication experts working in the domain of infectious diseases agree that merely generating data and publishing in academic journals is not enough to inform policies and include stakeholders in the discourse around the prevention and control of zoonoses. Numerous research studies, including one that was recently undertaken by PHFI/RCZI has shown that even with diseases like Japanese Encephalitis, a regular menace in parts of India, the at-risk population has very limited knowledge about the epidemiology and prevention of the disease. In addition to the conventional factors that impede knowledge transfer to the at-risk groups, like socioeconomic barriers, cultural conditioning, and lack of literacy, it is the inaccessibility of information that remains a major barrier to getting people to put in place checks and balances that can protect them from the disease and get speedy medical help in case they do contract it.
This problem assumes even more menacing proportions in developing countries like India, especially in peri urban fringes, which lie in the shadow of rapidly developing cities. Inspite of the minimal quality control, supervision and support available in these rapidly expanding fringes, they remain a major contributor to urban India’s need for food, milk, meat and poultry. Consequently, to match the supply with the growing demand, intensive, industry style animal rearing has become the norm in peri urban settings. These conditions, added to the razor thin profit margins and a lack of awareness, push them to adopt unsafe methods that may help save a few pennies but on the flip side, encourage pathogen emergence, resurgence of antimicrobial resistance, increased food safety risks, and transmission of disease between man and animal.
Knowledge transfer is a critical link in ensuring zoonoses prevention and control, especially in developing countries like India where some of the poorest smallholder farmers of the world reside with limited or no information, education, and quality control. An integrated approach is what will help identify knowledge needs, discovers and acquires existing knowledge, creates new knowledge and organises/stores/archives/disseminates the knowledge.
RCZI has adopted a multi-pronged approach leveraging modern web-based portals targeted at educated groups with access to internet. Using printed pamphlets, websites, video interviews, cartoon strips and photo-based narratives, photo essays and slide shows along with technical reports and documents has served to make the communication platform vibrant, interactive and user-friendly.
Going forward, the Initiative will find more innovative ways of packaging information based on formative and quantitative research. These will be tailored to the needs of the people before delivering them in an engaging manner making prevention and control of zoonoses in India a more visible and talked about subject.
Dr. Pranab Chatterjee is a Senior Research Associate with PHFI/RCZI and is based out of New Delhi