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There has been a reported hepatitis outbreak that has killed 3 children in Indonesia. To tackle the burgeoning health crisis, the Indonesian government should rethink how to communicate effectively with the public. Based on Indonesia’s initial response to COVID-19, Indonesians shouldn’t place a lot of faith in the government’s response.

To make matters worse, Indonesia’s initial response to the COVID crisis led to misinformation. This contributed to Indonesia’s death toll being one of the highest in the region. The government of Indonesia should learn from its mistakes. By adopting several principles of crisis communication management, the government can prepare more effectively in times of health crisis.

Clearly convey accurate information to the public

“The right message at the right time from the right person can save lives.” Barbara Reynolds, a Senior Crisis and Risk Communication Advisor, always emphasizes the importance of timing. The government should be the first source of accurate and timely information.

A quick response is key. The government should communicate accurate information as soon as a crisis emerges. An official statement is needed in providing the public with what is happening in real-time. Do not first publish your message for human consumption on social media because, well, it’s social media.

Conveying the right key messages in an honest manner can prevent misinformation. This could be done by assessing what is known and unknown. Communicate steps the government is taking to tackle the emerging public health crisis. This step should be delivered by providing a simple and consistent explanation of the government’s intervention so that the key message can be understood effectively and be remembered by the community.

Express empathy and promote a specific action

If we talk about a crisis, either directly or indirectly, it will bring up the victims. The government must quickly express empathy for the victims and their families. Don’t try to calm the public with lighthearted humor, it won’t help, it will only make the situation worse.

The government also needs to provide clear directions to the public on what to do next to be prepared. Explain what steps the public can take to prevent transmission. This can be in the form of any medicines to prepare at home, what first aid to do, and providing emergency numbers to call.

Engage the public by involving religious leaders

According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, religious leaders in Indonesia have carried out crucial roles during the pandemic. The Indonesian government has involved religious leaders before, but something to be noted is that this involvement must be conducted in an organized way.

Little is known about how this new variant of hepatitis is being transmitted. However, it is likely through person-to-person transmission. Religious ceremonies involving large numbers of people could be a potential threat to children for transmission.

By involving religious leaders, the government will find it easier to engage with the public in communicating policies in the health sector that will affect public worship activities on a large scale. The voices of these religious leaders are heard more by the community because they are often acknowledged as leaders of their communities.

The government needs to initiate discussions on a regular basis with religious leaders. This approach will help prevent the emergence of negative narratives and “us-versus-them” anti-government views that can polarize society.

Kenny Meigar is a Public Relations practitioner from Indonesia. He holds a B.A. in International Relations from Universitas Islam Indonesia. He is currently a Public Relations Consultant in Indonesia. His interests are strategic communications, media relations, and PR writings.