This theme brings together resources related to engagement before, during and after an epidemic occurs - both in the context of humanitarian and biomedical research responses. It features documents that offer high-level justification for why engagement is important in an epidemic situation, as well as practical guides and tools on how to implement engagement activities in these circumstances.
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In the time-pressured period when an epidemic outbreak is imminent, well-designed engagement programmes can support a contextually appropriate response effort, drawing upon and building local capacities, ensuring sensitivity to local practices and understandings of health and ensuring that those participating as patients or research subjects do so in an empowered and consensual way. However, there can be a complex array of actors, terminologies and motivations driving engagement initiatives. Sometimes different response programmes or even individuals within these programmes can have perspectives that sit in tension with each other. For example, some feel that given the need for quick action during an outbreak, there is a justification for ‘top down’ and instructive approaches that relay health related behaviours. For others, the emphasis might be on trying to understand the context and to collaborate with community members in programme design and roll out. Many see both sides of the argument and debate continues as to what is both effective and ethical. Given this lack of ‘internal’ consensus and clarity, it can be difficult for engagement practitioners to know how best to justify and co-ordinate community engagement around epidemics especially given the enormity of local needs felt.
Whilst it makes sense that different actors coordinate their efforts and have crosscutting lessons for each other, they may have unique concerns. Community engagement associated with a biomedical research programme is likely to be partly driven by concerns connected to unique ethical and regulatory codes such as concern for informed consent and freedom of choice. A humanitarian organisation might be more focused on other challenges such as diagnosis or vaccine hesitancy and minimising the economic impact of the outbreak. On the other hand, a civil society organisation might be most concerned with advocating the needs of the marginalised and vulnerable to decision makers. For ease of navigation materials have been divided by corresponding categories.
The resources are also organised according to stage of the outbreak be it whether there is a risk of an outbreak, in which an outbreak is imminent or where an outbreak has recently taken place. This can have a big impact on your engagement aims and approach given the different social and political concerns and voices and organisations that will be active.
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