The Malaria Vaccine Initiative’s crisis communications card

Despite current control efforts, malaria still kills approximately 900,000 people every year, with most deaths occurring in Africa among children under the age of five. In 2009, the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative (MVI) partnered with GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) Biological to launch a Phase III trial of the vaccine candidate RTS,S—the first malaria vaccine to demonstrate sufficient safety and efficacy to justify a major Phase III trial. The trial is expected to enroll up to 16,000 children and infants in a subset of countries across sub-Saharan Africa.

“We especially wanted a good crisis procedure in place for this trial because it involves children and infants,” says David Poland, the communications officer at PATH working with the trial. “It is so easy for parents to attribute any negative outcome that a child might experience to the vaccine, even if the vaccine has nothing to do with it.”

As part of their communications planning, MVI and GSK developed a rapid response procedure that outlined what should happen if a potential controversy erupted during the trial. “Also, together with GSK, we created a moisture-resistant card that has the MVI and GSK contact information on one side and a nine-step checklist for crisis communications on the other,” notes Poland. “We issued copies of the card to all staff involved with the trial to carry in their wallets.”

Building from the card idea, Poland revised the MVI issues management training for the sites from a fairly complex presentation to a format that mirrored the checklist on the card. “Keeping it simple became more important than ever after our observations on the ground suggested that with all the activities that engage the attention of PIs and the staff, communications work of all kinds will rarely come to center stage.”

“The biggest thing I have learned,” concludes Poland, “is to keep issues management simple and easy to follow. If you want busy people to implement something, it has to make sense to them and fit within their work realities.”

October 3rd, 2013