The biggest killers of human beings are not natural disasters, but health related man-made disasters – smoking, TB, vaccine-preventable illnesses; mental health.

Health authorities have rheems of information about these events and yet people are dying unnecessarily.

Is it time to rethink what communication specialists are doing in the health field, on the basis that, as an ethical framework would show, our tasks is to reduce death and dying.

In my work book ”Effective Warnings” there is a long chapter on ”health warnings.” We wanted to include man-made disasters in the overall process of issuing health warnings, and we extended it from the well known health warnings issued after disasters – typhoid, drinking water, gas and chemical alerts – to include all disasters.

Some criteria to consider when developing a persuasive message is to make sure the message will attract and maintain the attention of the audience, the strongest points are given at the beginning of the message; the action you are asking the audience to take is reasonably easy, the message uses incentives effectively; strong evidence for threats and benefits is provided and the messenger is seen as a credible source of information.

“Knowledge is important, but not sufficient to create change,” said Dr. Renata Schiavo, a public health, health communication, global health, healthcare, international development, and social innovation specialist. She wrote the book: Health Communication From Theory to Practice, and concluded “To create action, we need to engage people.” “Behaviour change is a process and it takes time,” said Maria Brann, PhD, MPH, an associate professor at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and affiliate faculty at the West Virginia University Injury Control Research Centre.  “The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that changing behaviours is incredibly hard.”

Changing behaviours and attitudes is the core business of Forewarned. The challenge we put to health professionals is: ”If you change your message from ”information” to ”warning,” will you save lives?

Here’s a recent information bulletin from Victorian Department of Health about measles. Could it have been more effective if the author’s applied the principles of emergency warnings?