Risk communication during COVID-19: A descriptive study on familiarity with, adherence to and trust in the WHO preventive measures

N Elsem Varghese, I Sabat, J Schreyögg, Sebastian Neumann, T Stargardt, A Torbica, Job van Exel, P P Barros, Werner Brouwer

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34 Citations (Scopus)


Background Risk communication is a key component of public health interventions during an outbreak. As the coronavirus pandemic unfolded in late 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) was at the forefront in the development of risk communication strategies. The WHO introduced a range of activities with the purpose of enabling the public to avail verified and timely information on COVID-19 prevention behaviors. Given the various WHO activities to protect the public health during COVID-19, it is important to investigate the extent of familiarity and uptake of the WHO recommendations among the public during the first wave of the pandemic. Methods To do this, we conducted a large-scale Pan-European survey covering around 7500 individuals that are representative of populations from seven European countries, collected online during April 2-April 15, 2020. We use descriptive statistics including proportions and correlations and graphical representations such as bar charts to analyze and display the data. Results Our findings suggest that information from the WHO in the context of COVID-19 is well trusted and acted upon by the public. Overall familiarity and adherence were quite high in most countries. Adherence was higher for social distancing recommendations compared to hygiene measures. Familiarity and adherence were higher among older, female, and highly educated respondents. However, country level heterogeneities were observed in the level of trust in information from the WHO, with countries severely affected by the pandemic reporting lower levels of trust. Conclusion Our findings call for efforts from health authorities to get regular feedback from the public on their familiarity and compliance with recommendations for preventive measures at all stages of the pandemic, to further develop and adapt risk communication as the pandemic evolves.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0250872
JournalPLoS One (online)
Issue number4 April 2021
Publication statusPublished - 29 Apr 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This project has received funding from the European Union?s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Sk?odowska-Curie grant agreement No 721402, the work was supported by funding under the Excellence Strategy by the German federal and state governments, as well as by the University of Hamburg, Erasmus School of Health Policy & Management and Nova School of Business & Economics Lisbon ? Chair BPI | ?Funda??o La Caixa? on Health Economics. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Varghese et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.


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