Policy responses for Montenegro - HSRM


Policy responses for Montenegro

1. Preventing transmission

The section on PREVENTING TRANSMISSION includes information on key public health measures that aim to prevent the further spread of the disease. It details how countries are advising the general public and people who (might) have the disease to prevent further spread, as well as measures in place to test and identify cases, trace contacts, and monitor the scale of the outbreak.

1.1 Health communication

Country risk communication and community engagement has been regarded as a critical public health intervention in Montenegro even before the international spread of the novel coronavirus. The reason was the fact that Montenegro has a large construction site of national importance, led by a Chinese company – CRBC (Chinese Road and Bridge Company), that has based their operations on a huge number of Chinese workers. Therefore, the media and lay public interest was enormous even during the first days of January when the outbreak just started to emerge in the city of Wuhan, China.

Since then, the country, the Institute for Public Health and the Ministry of Health have prepared various sets of communication materials, addressing first international travellers coming from the affected areas and then other parts of the public, including health professionals. Materials have been subsequently changed and adopted according to the epidemiological situation.

The aim of the communication and community engagement efforts was to communicate rapidly, regularly and transparently with the population.

Communication has been strengthened internally and externally using existing public health communication networks, but also public relations, media and community engagement staff of various national and international agencies, ministries and health institutions that led to the official implementation of a communication coordination mechanism in the early stages of the outbreak.

On March 2nd , the Montenegrin Government formed the National Coordination Team for contagious diseases as a response to the spread of the new coronavirus COVID-19. The government also formed an Inter-Ministerial Risk Communication Team which includes public relations staff from different ministries and is working in close cooperation with the Institute for Public Health and the Clinical Centre of Montenegro. The country also developed a national communication and community engagement strategy, with the goal of stimulating and enhancing appropriate behaviour in the population in order to protect their health, thus contributing to controlling the epidemic. The main objectives of the strategy are to maintain trust in the authorities that are involved in the response through the coordination of communication and the engagement of the community and to ensure the uptake of guidance by various target audiences.

The government launched an early national campaign on COVID-19 in order to continuously inform citizens about it, the prevention measures, the new decrees that the government had adopted in relation to the situation, etc. Since then, the campaign has been covering all types of media and all social networks (Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook). It mobilized support from all sectors of society. Celebrities joined it, as well as civil society organizations, the private sector and the international community.

Key elements and goals of risk communication were focusing on hand hygiene, physical distance and using a face mask as crucial response elements to prevent and control infection. The country has adopted and, with the help of the WHO Country Office, translated WHO recommendations on hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette. The same materials have been made available in the major languages used in the country. The WHO Country Office has helped to translate the COVID information materials into Albanian and the UNICEF Country Office has helped to translate into Roma language, in order to be shared and be available to other ethnic groups. The communication strategy aimed to ensure that no one is being left behind due to language barriers.

Materials have been communicated through official channels, including social media, specially designated web pages (www.coronainfocg.gov and www.ijzcg.me), and regular press briefings (first twice a day and then less frequent). All briefings were streamed live by all national TV stations. Political commitment and involvement has been also important with the prime minister and the deputy prime minister delivering key statements frequently.

According to Ipsos’s nationally representative survey of citizens aged 18+ of 20 March 2020, 98% of citizens feel well informed about COVID-19, which speaks volumes about the success of the campaign undertaken by the government so far. 81% of citizens are worried about being infected by COVID-19, while one in two sees this disease as a significant threat to Montenegro. Almost two-thirds (60%) see it as a significant threat to the world. Young people are least concerned about COVID-19 in Montenegro.

As this data can change significantly on a daily basis, the national communication team decided that more research and monitoring has to be put in place and be conducted in order to support effective planning, implementation and evaluation of the national campaign and the COVID-19 Risk Communication and Community Engagement (RCCE) Strategy. This strategy is based on WHO guidance on Risk communication and community engagement readiness and response to coronavirus disease (COVID-19) (https://www.who.int/publications-detail/risk-communication-and-community-engagement-readiness-and-initial-response-for-novel-coronaviruses).

The national campaign is based on consistent messages to avoid disinformation or contradictory messages. The key messages that are agreed and approved by the government’s communication team have been disseminated through different communication channels of all relevant institutions and stakeholders.

In particular, the government has developed standard operating procedures (SOPs) and a communication tree in every sector (health, education, socio-economic, etc.) so that it is clear, from the local community level to the national level, who the spokespersons are and with whom they can quickly consult regarding any media inquiries. Also, the SOPs include a protocol on the daily sharing of Q&As and relevant key messages for the media with all the spokespersons in each sector and at all levels depending on the daily situation. In this way, consistent and transparent communication is ensured at any moment from all institutions at both the local and national levels, which is essential for building and maintaining public trust.

WHO’s key messages have been translated and adapted to the local context since the beginning of the national campaign and this practice will continue.

Also, new messages related to the local context have been developed. This practice will also continue. Specific key messages have been developed for different audiences based on ongoing research and needs. They will be pretested within the implementation of the communication strategy.

In particular, apart from the messages regarding the health aspects of the COVID-19 situation and health in general (vaccination, pre- and post-natal care, need for medical care not related to COVID-19, etc.), key messages will also be developed on education (#LearnAtHome, #Educorona), socio-economic and legal measures, provision of psycho-social support, safety, etc.

They will vary depending on the audience they are aimed at. For example, because young people are least worried, according to Ipsos’s research, specific messages will be developed for them in order to prevent them ignoring the COVID-19 public health recommendations and measures. They will be reached primarily through social media, but also through TV.

Women are more concerned about COVID-19, according to Ipsos’s research, which means that key messages will need to consider gender differences too.

Key messages will be available in different languages and formats in order to reach minorities, migrants, refugees (including ex-Yugoslav refugees) and children and adults with disabilities.

The voices of health experts/scientists and other trusted key influencers will be regularly shared in the public debate to promote their authority over conspiracy theories and non-expert sources of information. Key messages about media literacy, fact-checking and recognition of fake news and the use of reliable sources of information on COVID-19 will also be regularly shared to combat the spread of disinformation on this topic. Through interactive communication on social media, citizens will be able to check whether some information is true with the relevant institutions before sharing it with others. Through the campaign, different stakeholders will also gather rumours, concerns and questions from communities across the country to eliminate information gaps between the government, the media, NGOs and citizens. By providing the public with facts, the campaign will debunk rumours before they can do more harm.

A list of key spokespersons has been developed in order to have people of different expertise and backgrounds speak out in the public debate on COVID-19 situation and related measures – doctors, health experts, psychologists, national and local officials, economic analysts, legal experts, media experts, teachers, social workers, parents, celebrities, influencers, etc. Celebrities and trusted opinion-makers have been engaged as spokespersons so that these messages have an even greater impact.

There has been an ongoing monitoring and evaluation of the impact of the messages sent in order to assess the need for their adjustment, depending on the audience’s reaction and the development of the situation in the country. This has happened through Ipsos’s nationally representative perception surveys being conducted at least once a week, as well as through analysis of media clippings, social media and website analytics, information regarding the most frequent questions people are asking and are confused about, according to the relevant telephone hotlines and online services.