The World Health Organisation (WHO) and a network of fact-checking organisations and leading public health bodies have made a strong move against the viral spread of misinformation.
The development partners launched the Viral Facts Africa in late March 2021 to combat misinformation around the Covid-19 pandemic and other health emergencies.
Viral spread of misinformation is a global problem that is empowered by information and communication technology (ICT).
Some of the widely shared misinformation in Africa include conspiracies around unproven treatments, false cures and anti-vaccine messages.
Viral Facts Africa, according to WHO, will leverage the insights and reach of a unique network of 14 organisations to counter health misinformation as it spreads and to ‘inoculate’ people against falsehoods.
According to UN Global Pulse, information on Covid-19 was shared and viewed more than 16 billion times and mentioned over six million times on Twitter and web-based news sites between November 2020 and March 2021 in 47 African countries.
‘False claims can spread faster than Covid-19 itself, often because they are simple, visual and tap into our emotions’, WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, said.
‘Viral Facts Africa aims to debunk myths fast right where they spread, and to help people sort life-saving facts from noise. Together, we can stop viral rumours by sharing viral facts’.
In the WHO African region, which comprises 47 countries, mentions of vaccines rose by over 300 percent to over 675,000 between December 2020 and February 2021 when compared with the previous two months.
The Viral Facts Africa launch comes as 90 million more Covid-19 vaccines are set to arrive in Africa in the coming months.
‘Covid-19 is not over, and as vaccines are rolled out across Africa, mask wearing, hand hygiene and physical distancing are still key to saving lives’, Dr Moeti added.
‘We need a whole-of-society push to keep these messages fresh in people’s minds and everyone has a role to play as viral health misinformation costs lives’.
Viral Facts Africa is a part of the Africa Infodemic Response Alliance (AIRA), a WHO-hosted network that coordinates actions and pools resources to combat misinformation and fill information gaps around the Covid-19 pandemic and other health emergencies in Africa.
AIRA is made up of the Africa CDC, the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), the United Nations Verified initiative, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and United Nations Global Pulse.
A similar project was launched in 2020 in Nigeria.
The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), in partnership with UNICEF, launched an SMS-based interactive chatbot in November to provide accurate information on Covid-19.
NCDC said in a statement that the chatbot would serve as a crucial medium to access validated, vetted and accurate information on issues tied to Covid-19 and Nigeria’s effort to control the pandemic.
The chatbot, which was designed by U-Report, can be accessed for free through Short Message Service (SMS), Facebook Messenger, and WhatsApp.
Photo source: Africa CDC