Developing the Capacity of Government to Respond Better to Misinformation during Public Health Emergencies

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The Ministry of Health and Social Services with support from WHO, trained national and regional risk communication and community engagement pillar members on Infodemic management. The spread of the COVD-19 pandemic has been followed by unprecedented and repeated waves of misinformation and disinformation generating what has been defined as an Infodemic. This overabundance of misleading information has been amplified by social media and affected the deployment of public health responses, generating fear and anxiety in local populations about preventive measures and vaccination campaigns.

As of 23 October 2022, over 624 million confirmed cases and over 6.5 million deaths have been reported globally and in Africa more than 12.4 million cases were recorded. While 63% of the total population across WHO Member States have completed their primary vaccination, only 19% of people in lower-Income countries (LICs) have done so. The Namibia vaccination rate also remains low, below 30%, being the lowest within the SADC region and partly attributed to vaccine hesitancy and the impact of misinformation related to COVID-19 and its vaccines.  

The objective of the Infodemic Management training was to give participants a basic understanding on infodemic management, including practical training on tools for monitoring rumors, fact-checking, and verification, as well as learning how to respond effectively and testing interventions to slow down the spread of misinformation.

With any health outbreak, a glut of information can confuse people and fuel behaviours that drive the spread of disease. It can undermine trust in health authorities which hampers public health responses and ultimately prolongs outbreaks as witnessed during the COVID-19 pandemic. And in Africa, a continent of 1,3 billion people exposed to over 100 public health events annually, countering the spread of misinformation, and managing the Infodemic are vital measures to prevent disease, disability, and death.  

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Infodemic management aims to ensure that people have the right information at the right time in the right format, so that they are informed and empowered to adopt behavioral changes during epidemics to protect their health and the health of their loved ones and communities. WHO with the Africa Infodemic Response Alliance (AIRA) conducted a three-day training of trainers for infodemic focal points in Namibia.  The workshop provided the participants from various regions of Namibia with the skills and methods to manage misinformation.

The workshop took place from 15th -18th November 2022 in Windhoek and had the participation of over 40 representatives from the Ministry of Health and Social Services, the Ministry of Information, Communication and Technology, WHO, UNICEF, The Namibia Red Cross Society, and local media organizations.

Introduction to infodemic management, overview/status of infodemic management, sharing best practices from other countries, national information ecosystem mapping, working with fact-checkers, media and influencers and social media planning were some of the topics that were covered during the training. 

Participants drafted a national roadmap on infodemic management to improve the health, media and digital literacy of individuals and their communities as well as to enable the development and maintenance of trust in science, institutions, experts, health authorities and governments.   

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of World Health Organization (WHO) – Namibia.