WHO launches initiative to combat COVID-19 misinformation in Africa

Villagers read COVID-19 prevention handbook provided by the government in Gutaurare village, Manicaland Province, Zimbabwe, August 21, 2020. (Xinhua/Shaun Jusa)
Villagers read COVID-19 prevention handbook provided by the government in Gutaurare village, Manicaland Province, Zimbabwe, August 21, 2020. (Xinhua/Shaun Jusa)

The World Health Organization (WHO) and partners have announced the launch of a new alliance to guide action on misleading information about the COVID-19 pandemic in Africa.

Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa said the launch of Africa Infodemic Response Alliance (AIRA), will boost efforts to eradicate rampant disinformation that hobbled the fight against the pandemic in the continent.

“In health emergencies, misinformation can kill and ensure diseases continue to spread,” Moeti said in a statement released on Thursday evening.

Moeti said the new alliance will leverage on resources and expertise from multilateral institutions and Pan-African bodies to combat misinformation about COVID-19, its spread and treatment options.

Africa has not been spared the crisis of COVID-19 misinformation that has been aided by unregulated social media platforms as fact-checking organizations debunk more than 1,000 misleading reports about the virus since its onset in the continent in February.

According to WHO, information about the pandemic has been shared and viewed over 270 billion times across the digital platforms in the continent, while a large portion of it has been found to be inaccurate and misleading.

The UN health agency said that the most widely shared misinformation revolves around unproven treatments, false cures and anti-vaccine propaganda.

Moeti said that advanced economies in Africa that have the highest internet penetration have been identified as COVID-19 disinformation hotspots.

“We are going to partner with affected countries to put in place interventions that are required to root out disinformation about the virus more so as we prepare for the roll-out of the vaccine,” said Moeti.

The alliance brings on board 13 global, regional organizations and fact-checking entities with expertise in data, behavioral science, epidemiology, research, digital health and communication that can be harnessed to detect, disrupt and counter misleading reports about the virus in the continent.

It will promote robust sharing of scientifically accurate coronavirus information in the continent among policymakers, researchers and public health specialists in order to inform timely responses at the grassroots.



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