Communication throughout the pandemic has been critical and Clear Voice Award co-recipients Anne Schuchat, MD, and Michelle Williams, ScD, have been at the forefront. “Communication has never been more important than this past year. And it’s never been more difficult,” Dr. Schuchat.
For the Research!America 2021 Virtual Advocacy Awards, Clear Voice Award introductions were made by Research!America Board Member Kafui Dzirasa, MD, PhD, Associate Professor at Duke University Medical Center. The recipients were joined by Seema Kumar, Global Head, Office of Innovation, Global Health and Scientific Engagement, Johnson & Johnson, for a conversation about science communication in a public health crisis.
The conversation opened with Kumar asking the honorees what the greatest takeaways have been from the pandemic from a public health communication perspective and what has the public community learned from the public. “I don’t see myself as a powerful communicator,” said Dr. Williams. “But I felt that I had to rise to this occasion, because this pandemic challenged us in so many ways.”
Dr. Schuchat agreed, adding, “I took away from this past year how important it is to listen, to understand the concerns people have.” And even more importantly, she said, “to listen with humility.”
Seema Kumar echoed this sentiment and added that, during the pandemic, the public has had an unprecedented desire for and engagement with information. Though gratified at the public’s thirst for information, Dr. Williams explained there needs to be investment in engaging with the public long before a public health crisis arises.
Looking to the future of the public health system, Dr. Schuchat emphasized the need for long-term investment in public health. “The strength of the public health system is going to define the impact of the next threat and the way out of this one,” she said.
Dr. Williams expressed hope for the deconstruction of systems, policies, and processes that drive disparities in health, saying, “we have to do it in a systematic and thoughtful way that gets to the most vulnerable populations first, and I think we can do better there, and we must do better there.”
Kumar closed the conversation by adding to the topic of health disparities: “Public health should not be a privilege of a few, but something that is accessible to everyone everywhere.”