Combatting Health Misinformation in Developing Regions – An Excerpt From First Check’s Coffee Table Book

Combatting Health Misinformation in Developing Regions – An Excerpt From First Check’s Coffee Table Book

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Health Misinformation

With the spread of health misinformation, especially during crises like COVID-19, countries like Sri Lanka struggle, shedding light on the difficulties faced by healthcare workers who lack the necessary skills, training, and resources to combat false health information effectively.

“It’s important to acknowledge that healthcare officials in most developing countries are overworked and lack the technical capacity to counteract health misinformation.”

Misinformation has been a paramount issue in the health sector globally. Yet, up until the onset of COVID-19, this “sleeping snake” had not raised much concerns about its noticeable impact. However, during the pandemic, social media was at its peak capacity, with people from different walks of life engaging as pros. Also, COVID-19 provided a perfect opening for massive misinformation flow due to the ignorance of the health agencies about the disease.

 

Social media was where information was available. The inability of health officials to engage in fact-checking at that time, largely due to ignorance and lack of training, led to waves of misinformation. Eventually, training in infodemic management has equipped the health systems to counter this information tsunami – to some extent. However, the battle is far from over.

Not only in Sri Lanka, but in most developing countries, fact-checkers face challenges from the traditional health system as well as the public. During the COVID-19 vaccine campaigns, we found that the source of vaccine misinformation was often medical doctors with little awareness of scientific evidence. 

Similarly, the non-digital nature of misinformation flow in developing countries tends to produce complexities in debunking those unscientific claims. That apart, at the governance level, low priority is given to infodemic management, making it difficult for voluntary fact-checkers to fight against health misinformation.

The major health information issue in Sri Lanka is the lack of a centralised control mechanism for infodemic management. The centralised bodies for health promotion have started important work like social listening and debunking myths through social media. Yet, these have not reached the general public, and they are not addressing the issues at the local level, mainly offline. 

Being a country with rich cultural influence, myths and false health information are common even among the literate public in Sri Lanka. Misinformation is particularly rampant about stigmatised health issues like sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and malnutrition, a pressing problem faced by the country.

It’s important to acknowledge that healthcare officials in most developing countries are overworked and lack the technical capacity to counteract health misinformation. Furthermore, there is a budgetary restriction to expand healthcare expenses to cover infodemic management.

In my experience, collaboration between the media and the healthcare workforces can form the much-needed bridge to help navigate these challenges. However, the collaboration needs to be well thought out, stringently laying down the responsibilities of each sector.

This is an excerpt from First Check's Coffee Table Book, you can read the full Coffee Table Book here.

Dr Sameera Ranasinghe is a distinguished doctor in Community Medicine at the Ministry of Health, Sri Lanka and is a member of the First Check team of Experts.

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Combatting Health Misinformation in Developing Regions – An Excerpt From First Check’s Coffee Table Book

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