Tuesday, 18 May 2010

UPDATE on Pandemic Planning and Response

Between 23rd and 25th March 2010 I took part in the first Asia Europe Foundation Network for Public Health workshop exploring ways of enhancing the pandemic preparedness capabilities across partner countries. This, the first of three workshops, brought together 26 high-level participants from multiple sectors including amongst others, scientists, governments, NGO’s and the health sector. The event was facilitated by Prospex http://www.prospex.com/ and managed by the Asia Europe Foundation (ASEF) http://www.asef.org/

Although the detail of the work, is at this stage not public, I’d like to share some of the themes and process’ to keep those of you who are interested in this agenda, up to speed. I’d also like to encourage dialogue around these themes to continue our own explorations of this agenda.

Through an active participatory workshop the partners identified some of the driving factors and uncertainties around future pandemics and as such, were exploring the themes to feed into the second session which will develop and test some of the ideas which in turn, will feed the third session aiming to refine and analyze the scenarios developed to inform long-term strategic implementation and outreach.

The main elements of this first workshop involved participants identifying their own hopes and fears around the issues which included aspects of co-ordination, current preparedness and human capacity. The facilitators enabled the group to contextualise individual factors and further explore those from very specific perspectives ranging from the legal, economic and political, to demographic, ethical and cultural.

By introducing and interrogating existing foresight studies, the facilitators enabled, (for what was many of us our introduction to this field) an analysis of the successes and failings of contemporary thought. Much of the workshop unpicked the uncertainties associated with pandemic and enabled a clustering of factors with innovation (R&D) and notions of the Human Factor high on the agenda. Through the exploration of 15 clusters, the group further identified polarities in thinking and possibilities of response.

By way of example, I was personally very engaged in conversation around information and communication, particularly with reference to how messages are communicated. The polarities explored around these factors focused on whether pandemic messages would be critically received, or would be met with indifference. Worse than this perhaps, and a theme of many of my papers relating to arts/public health; would be that the media propagate hysteria. Participants from the media sector who took part in this work provided strong critical debate and crucial input into my thinking.

With hindsight, many of the subtle discussions I’d had here in Manchester prior to the workshop, weren’t given a full airing, but notions of the human element, universal metaphor and understanding the roles of both the media and new technologies were robustly discussed as part of the bigger picture. I was also able to make opportunities to discuss the notion of diversity and how different societies/communities around the world will interpret messages differently.

Whilst a good deal of the workshop gave opportunity for blue-sky thinking, it grounded very diverse perspectives in a community of joint interest. For my own part being jet-lagged, in a strange environment and in extreme heat made for quite an anxious start. However, the sessions were meticulously thought through and conducted in English. It is mortifying as a native English speaker, to be surrounded by people for whom this is a second or third language and who speak far more eloquently and with insight than someone who can barely master his own tongue. The company was truly diverse and I felt under a good deal of pressure as one of only two participants from the arts sector.

I most certainly feel that I added to the mix and injected the notion of thinking creatively around this public health agenda, but I could have more explicitly inputted on the role of the artist in society, both as reflecting and questioning societal norms. In particular, the role of the artist within research and development and community engagement is an area I hope to develop further in this work.

I was impressed by the creative insight of a number of participants from wildly different backgrounds, who positively exuded a deep understanding around the potency and relevance of the arts to this area of work.

Clive Parkinson

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