BBC: Rumours prevent women with obstetric fistula from seeking treatment (3)

5 April, 2019

Dear Simon and all,

The BBC report suggests that some women with obstetric fistula in rural areas are not seeking treatment because they believe that they will have their organs removed for trafficking and that they will die.

I asked whether similar rumours exist in other countries (and for other medical/surgical conditions) and "How might these rumours be better addressed?".

A further key question would be: "Where do these rumours come from? Why do they emerge and how are they spread?"

Simon, you draw attention to the role of the media in causing such myths and misperceptions. It would be interesting to unpick this, and to identify examples of different kinds of media (radio, newspapers, television) that disseminate 'fake news' relating to health. What are the drivers to such misreporting (one driver is surely the need to 'sell' news) and how can misleading journalism be countered?

The mass media has a lot to answer for, but it is clear that person-to-person spread of misinformation is also hugely important, whether by word-of-mouth or, increasingly, by social media such as WhatsApp. It would be interesting to know to what degree such misinformation derivees from the media, versus emerging from within the community itself and spreading person-to-person.

Misinformation from the mass media and misinformation spread person-to-person would be expected to be mutually reinforcing and produce a toxic mix, contributing to harmful health decisions and immeasurable suffering.

It is a paradox that the more people are connected, the more vulnerable they are to misinformation. Those with low health literacy are especially vulnerable.

Governments have an obligation under international human rights law to protect their population from health misinformation. I would be interested to know of any examples where governments have taken measures to reduce health misinformation on mass media or social media channels.

Best wishes, Neil

Coordinator, HIFA Project on Information for Citizens, Parents and Children:

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HIFA profile: Neil Pakenham-Walsh is coordinator of the HIFA global health campaign (Healthcare Information For All - ), a global community with more than 19,000 members in 177 countries, interacting on six global forums in four languages. Twitter: @hifa_org FB: