Coronavirus is not the only crisis the world is fighting. A second epidemic that broke out at the same time as Covid-19, poses a related and deadly peril.
“A global misinfo-demic is spreading,” the UN Secretary General António Guterres warned at a recent public briefing.
Misinformation and conspiracy theories have flourished on social media, touting unproven claims about the origins, transmission, and cure for coronavirus.
These rumours have also spread in Uganda.
In March, a document was circulated on social media claiming that exposure to the sun and washing clothes would kill coronavirus. It also purported that the virus was large in size and not airborne, thus any mask would prevent entry through the nose and mouth.
With more than six million cases of Covid-19 infection already reported globally, can such reports cause any more damage?
Misinformation can have a profound effect on public health measures being instituted to stop the spread of the disease leading to non-compliance with recommended guidelines.
Conspiracy theories have been known to hamper response to Ebola outbreaks in West Africa and DR Congo. In Uganda during , the 2019 mass immunisation against measles and rubella and recently during the 2020 Africa Vaccination Week, there was a lot of debate on social media as many individuals offered their opinions, shared conspiracies about immunisation.
So, what can be done to effectively respond to such misinformation during health outbreaks like the on-going Covid-19 pandemic?
Alongside the medicine and science deployed to fight Covid-19, risk communication is one of the oldest and most reliable pillars of public health, which informs people of the risks of a public emergency and how to protect themselves. Risk communication is arguably the most cost-effective response to a public health emergency.
Even as government eases the lockdown, the coming months present an even more urgent need to accelerate the dissemination of factual information that will prevent undue exposure and a possible new spate of infections.
To promote facts over fear, UNICEF is working with the Ministry of Health to provide trustworthy guidance to children, parents, caregivers and educators through nearly three million information, education and communication materials, audio mobile vans, social media platforms, radio and television programmes in 30 local languages.
With combined efforts, Unicef together with the Ministry of Health and WHO, have utilised a mix of channels to reach audiences across the country through different platforms with timely information about Covid-19, its origin, how it spread, who is at risk, what the symptoms are, how to manage someone with COVID-19 at home.
As this information is disseminated regularly, Uganda has managed to reduce the spread of false information about Covid-19. We should not relax. In every emergency, information is critical, but of equal importance is community response.
It is our individual and communal responsibility to fight Covid-19, not only by following government directives, but also seeking and sharing only credible information from reliable sources.
Before you hit, send or share with others, ask the question: Is the information in my possession fuelling discrimination and stigma, is it promoting or fighting the spread of Covid-19? Is it accurate, reliable, proven and from a trusted source?
Unicef is committed to providing accurate information to ensure safety for every child and their families.
The writer is Communication Specialist, UNICEF