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Cablegate: Cdc Expert Conducts Program in Argentina On H1n1

VZCZCXRO0091
RR RUEHAST RUEHDH RUEHHM RUEHLN RUEHMA RUEHPB RUEHPOD RUEHSL RUEHTM
RUEHTRO
DE RUEHBU #1189 3071030
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 031030Z NOV 09
FM AMEMBASSY BUENOS AIRES
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 4562
INFO RUCNMER/MERCOSUR COLLECTIVE
RUEAUSA/DEPT OF HHS WASHINGTON DC
RHMFIUU/HQ USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL
RUEHZN/ENVIRONMENT SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY COLLECTIVE
RUEHPH/CDC ATLANTA GEORGIA

UNCLAS BUENOS AIRES 001189

C O R R E C T E D C O P Y (ADDED ADDRESSEE/DELETED PASS LINE)

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPT FOR OES/IHB - B. SORENSON AND D. WILUSZ
HHS FOR OFFICE OF GLOBAL HEALTH AFFAIRS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KFLU KSTH TBIO SOCI PREL AR
SUBJECT: CDC EXPERT CONDUCTS PROGRAM IN ARGENTINA ON H1N1
COMMUNICATION STRATEGIES

REF: Buenos Aires 952 and previous

1. (U) Summary: Dan Rutz, Global Health Communication Team Lead at
the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), visited Buenos Aires and
Mendoza from October 2-5 to consult with and brief public health and
media counterparts on communication strategies related to the H1N1
outbreak. Rutz held meetings with public health officials,
journalists, and medical professionals, and conducted media outreach
in the two cities. Rutz's program was of great interest here, as
mishaps in the early days of the H1N1 outbreak and subsequent
corrections confirmed the effectiveness of the type of communication
strategy he advocates. End Summary.
2. (U) The program of CDC speaker Dan Rutz focused on media and
government responses to epidemics, risk communication strategies,
and how to work with multiple stakeholders during epidemics. Rutz
also gathered lessons learned from the Southern Hemisphere's H1N1
season and emphasized to Argentina public health officials the
benefits of working closely and openly with the media. He noted
that the media will report on epidemics regardless of health
ministry cooperation, and that proactive engagement can help ensure
accurate reporting and calm a wary public.
3. (U) Rutz also held training sessions for health journalists,
speaking to over 100 media representatives. His media outreach
focused on the ethics of public health coverage and gave a technical
overview of influenza pandemic. He emphasized the need to have a
solid technical understanding of epidemiology and to push public
health officials for accurate information, being cautious of reports
that could inflame unfounded public fears.
4. (SBU) Accompanied by ESTHCouns, Rutz visited the western city of
Mendoza to meet with health ministry representatives from three
provinces. As a result of his meeting with the Mendoza Health
Minister, the Minister decided to alter his ministry's epidemic
communications strategy to put more emphasis on availability and
openness to the media. Rutz convinced the Minister that if
officials were not made available to the press, the press would be
forced to rely on other (usually wrong) sources, leading to public
confusion and misinformation.
5. (SBU) As a corollary benefit, Rutz's visit to Mendoza helped
strengthen regional public health cooperation by bringing together
officials from several provinces. Communications representatives
from the health ministries of Mendoza, San Luis, and San Juan
provinces all attended the presentation in Mendoza, which turned out
to be the first time they had ever met. The encounter led them to
decide to institute closer regional cooperation in the future on
health issues. Their lack of previous contact was indicative of the
significant deficit in coordination between different government
bodies during the Argentine H1N1 outbreak.
6. (SBU) Rutz concluded his visit with a substantive meeting at the
Ministry of Health (MoH) with Deputy Minister Fernando Avellaneda.
The Argentine MoH is particularly aware of the political dangers of
epidemics, as the Health Minister resigned in early July 2009 at the
height of the Argentine H1N1 outbreak, due to disagreement about her
ministry's response to the outbreak. The Argentine media covered
H1N1 very heavily in June and July, with considerable criticism of
the nearly-overwhelmed public hospitals and the perceived lack of
government response and communication. The new Health Minister, Dr.
Juan Manzur, took drastic measures, including closing all schools
and universities for three weeks and making Tamiflu free and
available to all patients (reftels) , to try to stem the spread of
the flu. The measures were quite effective in controlling the
outbreak.
7. (SBU) Avellaneda, who took office in July with Manzur, noted that
the central government was initially too slow in acknowledging the
H1N1 outbreak and that communication between local, provincial, and
national governments was poorly coordinated. The MoH also had to
combat rumors that the epidemic was a fiction meant to boost
pharmaceutical industry profits. Avellaneda credited his
communication staff with quickly moving towards greater transparency
in their first days in office. Among other actions, his team
immediately released new estimates showing a tenfold increase of
H1N1 over the previously publicized numbers.
8. (SBU) Comment: The program of this CDC speaker was timely and of
great interest here, as mishaps in the early days of the H1N1
outbreak and subsequent corrections confirmed the effectiveness of
the type of communication strategy which CDC advocates. Media
coverage was scathing in early July, as public fears mounted, and
the new MoH team's strategy did seem to calm the media and public
outcry. While this may have been in part due to the natural
downturn of the epidemic, the enhanced transparency of Avellaneda's
communication team did lend credibility to the MoH, causing the
media to focus its attention more on the facts and less on public
fear. End comment.
MARTINEZ

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