Novel coronavirus (32) What can HIFA do to address health misinformation?

20 February, 2020

Citation, extracts and a comment from me below.

CITATION: Statement in support of the scientists, public health professionals, and medical professionals of China combatting COVID-19

Charles Calisher et al.

The Lancet 2020

Published:February 19, 2020DOI:


We are public health scientists who have closely followed the emergence of 2019 novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and are deeply concerned about its impact on global health and wellbeing...

The rapid, open, and transparent sharing of data on this outbreak is now being threatened by rumours and misinformation around its origins. We stand together to strongly condemn conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin... Conspiracy theories do nothing but create fear, rumours, and prejudice that jeopardise our global collaboration in the fight against this virus. We support the call from the Director-General of WHO to promote scientific evidence and unity over misinformation and conjecture. We want you, the science and health professionals of China, to know that we stand with you in your fight against this virus.

We invite others to join us in supporting the scientists, public health professionals, and medical professionals of Wuhan and across China. Stand with our colleagues on the frontline!

We speak in one voice. To add your support for this statement, sign our letter online. LM is editor of ProMED-mail. We declare no competing interests.

COMMENT (Neil PW): Health misinformation is, in my view, a growing cancer that requires urgent treatment. The more that humanity is connected, the more easily the cancer spreads and mutates. We heard a few days ago that WHO has met with big tech companies about the issue. This is a start but concerted and collective action is badly needed as well, engaging all stakeholders who uphold the value of reliable health information as a fundamental premise for global health. I invite suggestions on what we - HIFA members - specifically could do, individually and collectively to address this pervasive threat.

Here is an extract from a New York Times article (17 Feb) that shows how false and dangerous beliefs can take hold, even among politicians and people of influence:

'The rumor appeared shortly after the new coronavirus struck China and spread almost as quickly: that the outbreak now afflicting people around the world had been manufactured by the Chinese government.

The conspiracy theory lacks evidence and has been dismissed by scientists. But it has gained an audience with the help of well-connected critics of the Chinese government such as Stephen K. Bannon, President Trump’s former chief strategist. And on Sunday, it got its biggest public boost yet.

Speaking on Fox News, Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas, raised the possibility that the virus had originated in a high-security biochemical lab in Wuhan, the Chinese city at the center of the outbreak.'

Best wishes, Neil

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

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: