Emergency Risk Communication: Lessons Learned from a Rapid Review of Recent Gray Literature on Ebola, Zika, and Yellow Fever

Health Commun. 2019 Apr;34(4):437-455. doi: 10.1080/10410236.2017.1405488. Epub 2018 Mar 20.


A rapid review of gray literature from 2015 to 2016 was conducted to identify the lessons learned for emergency risk communication from recent outbreaks of Ebola, Zika, and yellow fever. Gray literature databases and key websites were searched and requests for documents were posted to expert networks. A total of 83 documents met inclusion criteria, 68 of which are cited in this report. This article focuses on the 3 questions, out of 12 posed by World Health Organization as part of a Guideline development process, dealing most directly with communicating risk during health emergencies: community engagement, trust building, and social media. Documents were evaluated for credibility using an Authority, Accuracy, Coverage, Objectivity, Date, Significance (AACODS) checklist? and if the document contained a study, a method-specific tool was applied. A rapid content analysis of included sources was undertaken with relevant text either extracted verbatim or summarized and mapped against the questions. A database subset was created for each question and citations were assigned to the subset(s) for which they contained relevant information. Multiple designations per document were common. Database subsets were used to synthesize the results into a coherent narrative. The gray literature strongly underlines the central importance of local communities. A one-size-fits-all approach does not work. For maximum effectiveness, local communities need to be involved with and own emergency risk communication processes, preferably well before an emergency occurs. Social media can open new avenues for communication, but is not a general panacea and should not be viewed as a replacement for traditional modes of communication. In general, the gray literature indicates movement toward greater recognition of emergency risk communication as a vitally important element of public health.

Keywords: Emergency risk communication; LMIC; community engagement; gray literature; review; social media.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Community Participation
  • Disease Outbreaks / prevention & control*
  • Emergencies*
  • Gray Literature*
  • Health Communication / methods*
  • Hemorrhagic Fever, Ebola / prevention & control*
  • Humans
  • Risk Factors
  • Social Media
  • Yellow Fever / prevention & control*
  • Zika Virus Infection / prevention & control*