Coronavirus (643) Healthcare information for all is needed now more than ever

22 May, 2020

Dear HIFA colleagues,

As each week passes, we see how the cancer of health misinformation is infiltrating deeper and deeper worldwide. Healthcare information for all is needed now more than ever.

This is not a problem that can be fixed by Facebook and Twitter deleting fake news. Fake news is a symptom of underlying disease that requires much more than symptom control. The disease is a failure of our global healthcare information system, as described in our latest BMJ Global Health article [1]. We need to bring together all stakeholders to better communicate, understand and advocate for a world where every person is protected from health misinformation. This will require political and financial recognition and commitment to our shared vision of a world where every person has access to the information they need to protect their own health, and will know where to find it. In the same year that HIFA was launched, global health leaders said the 'challenge stares us plainly in the face... to ensure that everyone in the world can have access to clean, clear, knowledge - a basic human right, and a public health need as important as access to clean, clear, water, and much more easily achievable' [2]. This was in 2006, and the challenge was specifically addressed to the Gates Foundation. They did not reply.

But there is a chink of light, thanks to concerted action by the British Medical Association with technical support from HIFA. The World Medical Association recently issued a Statement in support of the BMA's resolution on Healthcare information for all [3] HIFA is now planning to establish a multidisciplinary working group to assess, act, and monitor progress on each of the seven recommendations in the Statement. One of these is: Combat myths and misinformation around healthcare through validated scientific and clinical evidence and by urging the media to report responsibly on health matters. What is needed now is for one funder to come forward in support of our vision. Does anyone have a contact who might be able to help us? At the Gates Foundation? The Rockefeller Foundation? The Wellcome Trust? Indeed these are some of the biggest players. There is an opportunity here for a very much smaller trust or foundation to make a huge difference. So if you know of anyone who may be able to help, please contact me:

There is no global health issue more important than the failure to access, understand and use reliable information for policy and practice, from individuals in rural Bangladesh to heads of state in Brazil. Our cause has been neglected by funders for too long and I appeal for your help to engage them with us in solidarity.

With thanks and best wishes, Neil

[1] Royston G, Pakenham-Walsh N, Zielinski. Universal access to essential health information: accelerating progress towards universal health coverage and other SDG health targets. BMJ Global Health 2020;5:e002475.

[2] Tikki Pang (WHO), Muir Gray (NHS, UK), and Tim Evans (WHO): 'A 15th grand challenge for global public health.' The Lancet 2006; 367:284-286.

[3] Pakenham-Walsh Neil, Godlee Fiona. Healthcare information for all. BMJ 2020;368:m759

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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 20,000 members in 180 countries, interacting on six global forums in four languages in collaboration with WHO. Twitter: @hifa_org FB: