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Preparing Australia for the next pandemic: Managing controversy; promoting trust.

Project Member(s): Hor, S.

Funding or Partner Organisation: National Health & Medical Research Council (NHMRC - Ideas Grants)
National Health & Medical Research Council (NHMRC - Ideas Grants)

Start year: 2022

Summary: Now is the time to plan for the next pandemic. The societal impacts of COVID-19, and unavoidable uncertainties about how best to manage transmission risks, have disrupted established perceptions of infection control and challenged confidence in experts and health authorities, resulting in public and professional controversy. The concern driving this project is this: societal awareness of a need for pandemic planning has risen dramatically, yet we lack understanding of what it means to be socially prepared for uncertainty about pathogen transmission and, in particular, what it takes to establish trust and co-operation between experts, frontline healthcare providers, and other key occupations when evidence is limited and rapidly evolving. We need to prepare now for cultural and professional contests over what counts as evidence in infection prevention and outbreak control when the stakes are high. Our team includes experts in social science, risk communication, infection control, occupational health and safety and public health. We will focus on two under-researched pandemic planning dimensions: (i) social determinants of outbreak preparedness and (ii) how to manage differing priorities and polarising discourses among key stakeholders. We will work with clinicians, policymakers, essential service providers and the general public to map the structures, cultures and networks of key healthcare and other organisations relevant to effective pandemic response. Based on preliminary outcomes we will develop better preparedness and control strategies, by promoting social awareness and greater trust within and between expert groups and the broader community. Our multidisciplinary, multi-method, and publicly engaged approach is highly innovative. This project is the first of its kind in the world: it will locate Australia as a leader in considering the implications of social preparedness, and develop evidence-based interventions that optimise the health and wellbeing of society.


Williams, JH, Hooker, C, Gilbert, GL, Hor, S & Degeling, C 2023, 'Disagreement among experts about public health decision making: is it polarisation and does it matter?', BMJ Global Health, vol. 8, no. 3, pp. e011182-e011182.
View/Download from: Publisher's site

Hor, S-Y, Plumb, J, Degeling, C, Hooker, C & Gilbert, L 2023, 'Challenges, changes, and opportunities for infection prevention and control professionals in pandemic times', Elsevier BV, pp. S9-S9.
View/Download from: Publisher's site

FOR Codes: Health services and systems, Health and community services, Public health, Provision of health and support services, Public health (excl. specific population health)