What is our responsibility?

A couple of days ago, as I was scrolling through Twitter, this article title immediately caught my attention:

“COVID-19 pandemic: countries urged to take stronger action to stop spread of harmful information”

It was a joint statement released by the World Health Organization (WHO), the UN, specialized agencies and other partners. Leaders from these various organizations “called on countries to develop and implement action plans to promote the timely dissemination of science-based information and prevent the spread of false information while respecting freedom of expression”.

“Misinformation and disinformation put health and lives at risk, and undermine trust in science, in institutions and in health systems,”
-WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

The article outlined some examples of how partner agencies are working together towards a common goal of fighting against false information during this pandemic.

A few of these include:

  • The UN’s “Verified” initiative that works with “media partners, individuals, influencers and social media platforms to spread content that promotes science…”
  • UNESCO “has mobilized its international networks of media partners, journalists, fact-checkers, community radio stations, and experts, to give citizens the means to fight against false information and rumours…”
  • The WHO-ITU BeHe@lthy BeMobile initiative “has been working with national ministries of telecommunications and health and mobile network operators…to text people who may not have access to the internet, providing them with science- and evidence-based COVID-19 health advice directly on their mobile phones.”

As the WHO and its partners urged countries “to empower communities to build trust and resilience against false information”, it got me thinking about what our responsibility was, as the individuals delivering public health on the ground, and how we can do our part…

…not just within the context of COVID-19, but in all of the work we do in public health.

How can each of us play a role in the global goal of preventing the spread of false information and promoting timely dissemination of science-based information?

“Engaging communities on how they perceive the disease and response is critical to building trust and ending outbreaks…if our response does not reflect the communities’ concerns and perceptions, we will not be seen as relevant or trusted by affected populations…”
-Jagan Chapagain, IFRC Secretary-General

Two weeks ago I delivered an Infographics 101 webinar session to members of a patient-oriented research organization, during which I explained this exact concern: health misinformation in the world.

I showed examples of websites, articles, and visuals that communicate the wrong information to people we care deeply about, like the one below.

An infographic that shows the wrong message about vaccination

Most of these products are often created by non-public health professionals; and are so popular because of their visual appeal and easy to digest information.

I explained that, on the flip side, public health professionals like us do excellent work, but at times, it doesn’t see the day of light, nor reaches the right people.

By equipping public health professionals with solid communication skills, including visual communication, I argued that we can be in a better place to effectively disseminate science-based public health information in the world.

I go as far as saying that we have a responsibility to ensure that public health information is displayed and communicated accurately.

I believe that our role here, in the global fight against misinformation is not only to prevent misinformation but to saturate the world with good information.

Social media platforms like Twitter and Pinterest are doing their part by ensuring that when individuals search for health topics, they are pointed to trustful sources like government agencies.

A screenshot of a twitter search for measles returns a note directing viewers to trustworthy resources, such as government agency websites

Everyone is doing their part, so let’s do ours.

What action will you take during this global call?

Blog post Photo by Mat Reding on Unsplash.

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