As the World battled the COVID-19 pandemic, communities, individuals and institutions, and national health authorities contended with an overabundance of right and wrong information. This aggravated because of top-notch advancement in information technology.
WHO defines infodemic as an overabundance of accurate and inaccurate information during epidemics which many times led too confusion and ultimately mistrust in governments and public health response.
In Tanzania, inadequate credible information and misconceptions contributed to a lukewarm acceptance of COVID-19 vaccination. “We were hesitant initially because the people we listened to did not give us a clear message,” said, Abel Ernest Lanzu, a resident of Sumbawanga town in Tanzania as he contemplated taking a COVID-19 jab back in October 2022.
Without a smart approach to fight Infodemic, its impacts can derail a health or emergency responses, leading to deaths and economic losses that could be avoidable.
Thanks to funding from the European Civic Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO) the World Health Organization in the African Region and the African Infodemic Response Alliance (AIRA) trained more than 100 public health experts in Tanzania on how to deal with infodemic.
“This is part of an overall goal to strengthen Member States in analyzing and properly responding to Infodemic,” said Yara, Moussaui, Infodemic Country Support Lead at WHO Regional office for Africa.
The Deputy Director of Preventive Services of the Ministry of Health Zanzibar, Ms. Fatma Mohamed Kabole, reiterated a need for a structured approach to infodemic.
“We need sharper and structured skills in dealing with the avalanches of information that weighs on health promotion officers during emergencies,” she said.
Speaking on behalf of the WHO Country Representative, Dr Neema Kileo, Health Promotion officer, urged participants to grasp the key concepts and techniques that will help us improve how we counter misinformation and rumors to control epidemics.
“During public health emergencies, fake news spread faster and often lead to public confusion, risky and harmful behaviors that make it difficult to control outbreaks. As key actors, let us be here physically and mentally and use these two days to learn new skills that will help us improve how we manage the flooding of information during disease outbreaks to protect our people”, said Dr Kileo.
Dr. Tumaini Haonga the Assistant Director for Health Promotion section of the Ministry of Health on Tanzania Mainland appealed for partners to support government’s plan of cascading infodemic management skills to district health promotion coordinators. A total of 58 health promotion experts from the mainland participated in the training in Arusha.
“The skills and knowledge gained during this training will be handy in managing rumours, misinformation, and disinformation during public health emergencies,” said Dr. Tumaini Haonga,
A total of 100 participants were trained with 45 from Zanzibar and 58 from Arusha respectively. Participants expressed their satisfaction and zeal to use the lessons from the training to effectively manage infodemics
“We learned new tactics to analyze infodemic and novel tactics to promote key messages that debunk rumours,” said Suleiman Faki, a Health Promotion Officer, from Wete District in Pemba North.
According to Ms. Prisca Gallet, Health Promotion Coordinator: “I gained valuable skills and techniques on identifying rumors, misinformation and disinformation and how best to pre-bunk and de-bunk those to ensure that the public has accurate information that will help them to avoid confusion and make informed decisions during disease outbreaks”.
WHO, UNICEF and other partners committed to sustained collaboration with the Ministry of Health to strengthen systems and utilize relevant tools that will enhance provision of accurate and timely lifesaving information using credible sources of information to enhance public health response.