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13 Oct 2022, 1550 hrs

Identifying and Addressing Health Misinformation

Health misinformation is a serious threat to public health. It can fuel uncertainty, sow mistrust, lead people to reject public health measures and harm people’s health.  The coronavirus pandemic has brought to the forefront the challenges of health misinformation. The panel will discuss challenges and trends of health misinformation and how information voids and echo chambers fuels misinformation online. The session will also discuss the collaboration opportunities to address health misinformation and ways to use evidence-based information to build resilience to misinformation.

Misinformation and disinformation related to public health issues are serious concerns which not only endanger lives but also strike away at the trust built within a community or society and towards public health systems, several experts said at the second Asian Conference for Political Communication (ACPC) held in Singapore on 12 October, 2022.

Talking about the misinformation and disinformation surrounding the Covid-19 vaccines, Tim Nguyen, Head of Unit for High Impact Events in the Global Infectious Hazard Preparedness Department of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme (WHE), said that governments and public health bodies didn’t do a good job in providing communication in advance when it came to promoting the vaccines. 

“We should have been more prepared when it came to promoting the cause of vaccinations. The minority of people who are the most vocal about being anti-vaccine are the ones we tend to focus on the most, ” added Adam Dunn, Associate Professor, at The University of Sydney, Australia.

Tim was speaking as part of a panel aimed at identifying and addressing health misinformation at the second Asian Conference for Political Communication (ACPC) held in Singapore on 12 October, 2022. The panel identified health misinformation as a serious threat to public health which was fuelling uncertainty, sowing mistrust, leading people to reject public health measures and eroding trust in governments and public health systems.

Giving an example from her country, Surbhi Pandit Nangia, Vice President at the digital media and information firm DataLEADS, said that misinformation about Covid-19 treatments and management abounded during the “devastating” second wave of the virus in India.

“While misinformation threatens democracy, health misinformation threatens lives,” Ms Nangia said. She added that wrong information about Covid-19 treatments such as drinking cow urine or ginger tea to combat the virus’ effects were being circulated widely during the pandemic’s second wave in India. 

The experts agreed that combating misinformation related to health is a vital job which needs experts and policy makers to relate to the audiences and reach the grassroots level.

Explaining such an initiative, Dr. Ahmad Firdaus, a practicing medical doctor based in Malaysia mentioned the work of Medical Mythbusters Malaysia (M3), a health advocacy NGO which uses social media to empower the Malaysian public with evidence based health and medical information.

“Facts and figures do not sell. Jargons and numbers keep lay persons away,” Dr Firdaus said, emphasising the need to reach audiences with easily relatable, trustworthy and verified health content to deal with health and medical misinformation.

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The University of Sydney, Australia
Medical Mythbusters Malaysia, Malaysia
DataLEADS, India
DataLEADS, India
World Health Organization, Switzerland