Health misinformation, I strongly believe, must be treated like a disease because it behaves like one. My experience during the Ebola outbreak in Nigeria in 2014 fuels my passion for infodemic management. I consider it my duty to make use of every avenue to reach out to the public in order to pre-bunk and debunk rumours surrounding public health response, address vaccine hesitancy, as well as negative health-seeking behaviours.
Over the last two years and five months of managing the infodemic in Nigeria during the COVID-19 pandemic, the most striking lesson for me has been that even though we may not be able to stop the infodemic, it can be managed well with an all-hands-on-deck approach. It is possible to inoculate the public to become resistant to the impact of the infodemic, especially during a public health crisis.
One of the many repercussions of the infodemic is that it generates confusion and increases negative risk-taking behaviours, resulting in low compliance with public health and social safety measures. Mistrust in health authorities, undermining the public health response, is another collateral damage that we have had to deal with.
Some diseases stay within geographic borders, others are seasonal in nature. However, the infodemic has no such restrictions; it is all pervasive. Wherever there are people, there can be an infodemic – that is, abundance of information, especially erroneous or misleading information, in both digital and physical surroundings. This is especially common during disease outbreaks, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re not just fighting a pandemic; we’re fighting an infodemic,” Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director- General of the World Health Organization (WHO) had said. With the growing penetration and reach of social media and digital platforms, information spreads faster and reaches a greater number of people than we could have imagined a decade ago! While this can be helpful in filling knowledge gaps, it has also functioned as a platform for dis/mis/mal- information to spread.
As an infodemic manager and a member of First Check, I realise that managing disease outbreaks and the infodemic are an ongoing challenge. Our responsibility is to continue identifying and managing mis/disinformation regarding vaccinations, preventative measures, public health regulations, and anything that can undermine the public health response.
Public health professional & infodemic manager,
Nigeria Centre for Disease Control and Prevention