Dispelling the myths around the new coronavirus outbreak

7 February, 2020

Dear HIFA colleagues,

Extracts below from the news site Aljazeera and a comment from me. Full text here: https://www.aljazeera.com/amp/news/2020/02/dispelling-myths-coronavirus-...


Dispelling the myths around the new coronavirus outbreak

Spread of new type of coronavirus from China accompanied by misinformation and fake claims online.

On Thursday, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the virus epidemic in China a public health emergency of international concern. But Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the agency's director-general, said the main reason for the designation was not "because of what is happening in China" but "the potential for this virus to spread to other countries with weaker health systems which are ill-prepared to deal with it".

The rapid spread of 2019-nCoV has been accompanied by misinformation and hoaxes online, including false claims about its source, its spread and how to treat it - a dangerous development, according to doctors and health experts.

Here are four myths the global health agency has busted on the current outbreak.

1. Myth: Antibiotics are effective in treating the new coronavirus

Administering antibiotics does not help because they only work against bacteria, not viruses.

2019-nCoV is a virus...

2. Myth: Herbal remedies and other drugs can help treat the new virus

There is no specific medicine recommended to treat the new virus, according to WHO...

3. Myth: New coronavirus only affects older people

People of all ages can be infected by the virus.

4. Myth: Pets can spread the new coronavirus

There is no evidence at present to suggest that pets such as dogs and cats can be infected with the new virus...


Comment (Neil PW): A few minutes ago I sent a message about the death of Wuhan doctor Li Wenliang, who had been vilified by the authorities for 'spreading rumours' when he expressed concern about cases in December that subsequently proved to be due to coronavirus. If the authorities had acted in the interest of public health, perhaps the outcome might have been different. Perhaps coronavirus would have been contained and not become a public health emergency of international concern.

At the same time, myths such as those described above are making the national and global situation substantially more dangerous. As we are seeing on HIFA, we can now consider such myths as being inevitable in every disease outbreak, due largely to misinformation through social media channels.

The time has come where all stakeholders need urgently to declare their commitment to support universal access to essential healthcare information, which would include (inter alia) a collective response to address health misinformation. More than 400 organisations have already declared their support for the HIFA vision (A world where every person will have access to the healthcare information they need to protect their own health and the health of those for whom they are responsible). However, our capacity for collective advocacy is limited, not least because HIFA has only one professional staff member. We need urgently to strengthen our global advocacy and I invite your comments and suggestions.


Best wishes, Neil

Let's build a future where people are no longer dying for lack of healthcare information - Join HIFA: www.hifa.org

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