First Report on the WHO Global Response to COVID-19

Posted on Friday, June 5, 2020

The Centre on Governance is very pleased to announce the publication of the first research report on COVID-19 and the WHO’s communication strategy in collaboration with the University of Sherbrooke.

WHO Global Response to COVID-19: Communicating Risk / Risky Communication. Rapid Results Report -- Phase 1: December 31, 2019 – January 31, 2020

Communicating Risk/Risky Communication, written by a team including Prof. Gabriel Blouin-Genest (UdeS), Prof. Eric Champagne (UOttawa), Prof. Nathalie Burlone (UOttawa), Prof. Mélissa Généreux (UdeS) and researchers Natalia Torres Orozco (UdeS) and Anna Bogic (UOttawa), is an exploratory research report on the WHO’s communication and actions at the start of the crisis. The publication will be followed by other reports focusing on the later stages of the crisis.

The research project has received funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR).

To learn more about the project:


The present study is an analysis of the communication and information shared by the World Health Organization (WHO) from December 31, 2019 (when the first pneumonia cases from unknown cause were detected in Wuhan, China) to January 31, 2020, the day after the WHO declared COVID-19 a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). All recommendations, statements, press conferences, tools, social media posts, and guidelines released by the WHO during this period were reviewed to identify the WHO information and communication strategy. In this first report in a series of reports, our objective is to examine the WHO strategy within the context of uncertainty, data shortages and insufficient cooperation which greatly affected a coordinated global response towards the novel coronavirus. This report thus seeks to illuminate recent criticisms expressed by international actors against the WHO by looking specifically at problems, failures and limitations of the communication and information strategy of this international organization. We present key findings on the WHO’s use of social media and other tools, as well as the findings of a Canadian survey suggesting that the WHO may have appeared too far removed as a source of information to be able to reduce stress, anxiety and misinformation.

(Photo credit: Martin Sanchez, Unsplash)

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