How health authorities communicated monkeypox risks ahead of Berlin Pride

Christopher Street Day Berlin (CSD Berlin) is one of Europe’s largest and oldest Pride events, taking place in the second half of July. It aims to highlight the importance of equal rights and treatment for LGBTQI+ people, as well as to celebrate gay and lesbian culture in the city and beyond. This year, around 150,000 people joined the first in-person Pride celebration since before the COVID-19 pandemic, many of whom traveled from all over Germany and other European countries to attend.

While COVID-19 measures may have eased in Germany, the outbreak of monkeypox in the WHO European Region – which has seen a sharp rise in cases, especially among men who have sex with men (MSM) – naturally caused great concern among health authorities. . CSD and its preparations have therefore given health authorities in Berlin an excellent opportunity to raise awareness of the risks, the symptoms to watch out for and the steps people can take to avoid infection and transmission, to an audience of those most at risk. risk.

We spoke to Dr. Claudia Ruscher, infection epidemiologist at the National Office of Health and Social Affairs in Berlin, to find out how they prepared to deal with the epidemic and what measures they took to communicate information about monkeypox, especially in the lead up to Christopher Street Day on July 23, 2022.

“We are a small team that assesses the epidemiological situation of outbreaks, whether it is COVID-19, measles, West Nile virus – or like now, monkeypox,” she says. “We then work with local health departments to take action to control these outbreaks – which includes risk communication.”

“At the start of the epidemic, we created an information page on our website, which gives an up-to-date overview of the situation in Berlin, as well as details on the transmission routes, incubation times of the illness, advice on sexual behavior to avoid infection, and other relevant preventive measures.

Additionally, Dr. Ruscher and his team developed a communications campaign ahead of the Pride event, consulting with the Robert Koch Institute – a German federal government agency and research institute responsible for disease control and prevention – as well as well as civil society organisations, such as the gay counseling centre, Mancheck, and the AIDS charity, Deutsche Aidshilfe, to ensure that messages and materials were accurate, effective and appealing.

They also used the Monkeypox Resource toolkit as a guide, developed by WHO/Europe and the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), to help national authorities and event organizers in their planning and coordination of mass events and large gatherings. Dr Ruscher describes the toolkit as particularly useful in shaping their thinking about how best to communicate with high-risk groups without fear of stigma and to communicate disease prevention measures appropriately. The toolkit consists of ready-to-use, customizable tools that health authorities and event organizers can use for public health preparedness and risk assessment; early warning, alert and response (EWAR); event-based monitoring; contact tracing; and risk communication and community engagement (RCCE) on monkeypox for mass gatherings.

After that, Dr. Ruscher and her team mapped out the best places to roll out their campaign and materials, so that this important information reaches their primary target audiences – MSM and sex workers – before the big day. Different design and material language versions were also produced, giving venues the choice to decide what might be most appropriate for their particular clientele or setting.

“We created printed materials, such as postcards and posters with QR codes linked to our apps and our information page,” she says. “We also placed online advertisements on relevant dating apps and Berlin gay websites, and bought 1 million social media impressions before CSD Berlin to maximize our reach.”

“Additionally, we contacted just about every bar, club, sauna we could – in fact, just about every place we identified as a possible route of disease transmission – to take our equipment, get them to place our apps on their websites, and to link to our information page.

“Perhaps more importantly, we have also reached out to the organizers of CSD Berlin and they have agreed to share links to our materials and applications. We were really pleased to see them directly using our text to provide really comprehensive information about monkeypox on their website.

Although an impact assessment of their CSD campaign has yet to be completed, Dr. Ruscher is proud of what she and her small team have accomplished.

“We are epidemiologists – nerds – first and foremost, not communication professionals,” she laughs. “But despite this, and being a small team with limited resources, we managed to successfully engage LGBTQI+ civil society organizations, Christopher Street Day organizers and on-site sex venues – which are at the origin of many cases – to get the vital message that people need to take monkeypox seriously and take personal responsibility to prevent it from spreading further.

Since the launch of the Monkeypox Resource toolkit, WHO has also developed a new mobile-friendly web-based tool with an interactive dashboard, which gives individuals the information they need about monkeypox before attending any major events and gatherings.

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