CDC Emergency Partners - The Power of Partnerships

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September 28, 2017

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CDC's Emergency Partners newsletter provides updates, resources, and useful tips to subscribers interested in emergency preparedness and CDC's emergency responses.

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    CDC in the News

    CDC Hosts Partners for Zika Strategic Communications Stakeholder Meeting

    Partners who joined CDC at Emergency Partners Strategic Zika Communications Conference

    As a fitting start to National Preparedness Month, a diverse roster of disaster relief and community service organizations convened at CDC to participate in the Emergency Partners Information Connection (EPIC) Zika Strategic Communications Conference September 7-8. An inaugural event for the EPIC team, this exciting opportunity was a meeting of the minds among leaders from some of the nation’s most influential non-profit and community-based organizations specializing in emergency response.

    Although several organizations had to cancel due to their participation in responses to hurricanes Harvey and Irma, a total of 15 leaders representing 14 partner organizations participated in the two-day meeting.

    The goal of this meeting was to increase the capacity of EPIC’s partners to provide resources and information to vulnerable populations during emergency situations.

    “Partnerships are a vital component of executing any public health initiative, and in the event of an emergency, they prove to be invaluable when protecting citizens impacted by a public health crisis,” said Molly Gaines-McCollom, EPIC team lead. “Our stakeholder meeting was a productive first step in helping the EPIC team solidify our partner relationships, gain insights to enhance our standard operating procedures, and ensure we can effectively protect American communities from public health crisis situations in the future.”

    The EPIC stakeholder meeting provided partner organizations with insight about the team’s operational focus within an emergency response, while also providing an overview of how they function within CDC’s Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response’s Division of Emergency Operations, the Emergency Operations Center and the Joint Information Center (JIC).

    Attendees shared information about their organization’s disaster and emergency relief operations and the communication efforts that form an integral part of these operations. They learned from each other while engaging in a lively exchange about how to disseminate emergency messages and resources to at-risk populations.

    Partners left the meeting feeling a stronger connection with CDC and its staff, and excitement about how the connections they made will enhance emergency responses in the future. Said one attendee “I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it was really helpful and a good reminder of all of the organizations and resources that we don’t typically access or partner with.” 

    The EPIC team looks forward to using the information shared during the meeting to develop new offerings and training opportunities for its partners, as well as continuing to build new relationships with even more organizations across the United States.

    The EPIC team would like to thank the following organizations for participating in its Zika Strategic Communications Stakeholder Meeting:

    • Broadreach
    • US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
    • Hispanic Federation
    • Meals on Wheels of Georgia/Cobb Senior Services
    • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
    • Hearing Loss Association of America
    • National Disaster Interfaiths Network
    • Georgia Department of Public Health, Refugee Health Program
    • National Community Pharmacists Association
    • National Women, Infants, and Children Association
    • Boy Scouts of America
    • Tzu Chi Foundation
    • National Center for Farmworker Health
    • International Rescue Committee

    Words of Wisdom: Successful Responses Start Locally

    Disease outbreak response and prevention requires more than just science. A successful health intervention needs to be led by who we are caring for. Understanding culture—what makes a population unique, how they understand illness, and how they live—is critical to stopping disease spread.


    Navajo Nation

    The Navajo people (Diné) have lived in the Four Corners area, covering parts of Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah, since long before U.S. colonization.  According to Navajo culture, the Diné arrived on Navajoland by emerging through four levels of worlds, and they live as they were taught, in a tradition that maintains balance and harmony with Mother Earth, Father Sky, and the elements of life such as people, animals, plants, and insects.    

    Some Diné people who practice traditional religion live in the Hogan, or “sacred dwelling,” to conduct traditional healing ceremonies for mental, spiritual, and physical wellbeing. Each Hogan has an opening on the east side to bring in harmony of the sun, a conical roof for harmony with the sky, and walls and floor made of branches, bark, grass, and earth. After the Hogan is constructed, the Medicine man blesses the house. 

    But this way of life, maintaining such closeness to earth, may increase the risk of hantavirus, a disease carried in rodents that live in the area. Navajo Nation’s Department of Health, with the help of CDC, has found some ways to address this risk communication challenge.

    A Mysterious Illness

    In 1993, a mysterious deadly illness causing respiratory issues was spreading in Navajoland.  Local reporters began calling the unidentified illness “Navajo Disease.”  Worse still, reporters and disease investigators overwhelmed the people, often without invitation, and in ways disrespectful to Navajo culture.  The outbreak investigation concluded that the illnesses were caused by a newly identified type of hantavirus, Sin Nombre hantavirus (SNV).

    Recording in station for Navajo radio

    A Message from the Medicine Man

    Then, two years ago, another person died of hantavirus, and three others became ill on Navajoland, bringing back the memories of stigma and fear. Del Yazzie, the Acting Director of Navajo Nation’s Tribal Epidemiology Center, reached out to CDC’s hantavirus experts and told them that the greatest need was to educate the Diné about this disease and its prevention in the Navajo language.  It was important to make people aware of the symptoms and how to prevent mice from getting into their homes.  Above left: Craig Manning and Del Yazzie recording a radio show.

    Less than a week later, Craig Manning, a CDC Health Communication Specialist, was at the Tribal Epidemiology Center in Window Rock, Arizona, working with Yazzie and his team to develop messages and a community education plan.


    When Manning first met with Navajo Department of Health officials, they told him that the best way to reach the most people was through radio.  From families at home to sheepherders in mountains, many Navajo Nation community members get their news from radio. Yazzie and Manning approached KTNN, a radio station heard across the Nation, to create Public Service Announcements (PSAs), and a live, call-in program on hantavirus.  Experts from Navajo Nation and CDC, as well as Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye and Vice President Jonathan Nez, brought together public health science and prevention information spoken in Navajo through revered trusted officials on the first call-in radio talk show in 2016. 

    Del Yazzie and Craig Manning in recording studio

    More recently the medicine man of the Navajo Department of Health worked with Yazzie and Manning to record a PSA giving guidance on prevention, transmission, symptoms, and treatment of hantavirus.  A medicine man is “the holder of truth” about the Navajo way of life and is considered a superior being; a healer, religious leader, and historian able to reach out to spiritual Gods through chants to bring people back into balance, especially when they are ill. 

    Above right: Craig Manning interviewing Del Yazzie for a radio show.

    While these PSAs played two times per day for a month, Yazzie received many positive follow-up calls and emails and questions from listeners showing that people were now aware and interested in learning how to prevent hantavirus.

    “The stigma caused in the 1990’s outbreak naturally subsided with more community education and outreach. People became informed and took it upon themselves to do things to prevent the disease,” says Yazzie. “The evaluation of our communication efforts is lacking, but I really believe it [the use of radio] is working to prevent disease.”

    This partnership resulted in a new way to reach out to the Diné with health information and established a system to reach the most people quickly in an emergency.  Navajo Nation’s Diné College invites Manning to return each spring to teach students in the Principles of Public Health course how to develop video PSAs.

    Local Partnerships

    When fighting a disease outbreak, it’s important not to lose sight of the goal: to protect the people at risk.  Understanding the culture and people affected by an outbreak is just as important as understanding the disease behind it.  Identifying hantavirus as the cause of the rash of illnesses and deaths in the 1990’s without fully understanding and working with the local population only addressed part of the problem. With Diné national and spiritual leaders determining the best ways to reach their communities, more people in Navajo Nation have the information they need to protect their health.


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