Novel coronavirus (143) Debunking COVID-19 misinformation with friends and family (3)

17 March, 2020

Dear Amelia,

Thank you for your message... very good point about "misinformation commonly occurs among highly educated people as well".

I'm sure many of us can relate to your experience. The same thing has just happened in my family; my relative in the USA, who has a PhD, inadvertently circulated false information among our family ("hold your breath for 10 seconds to see if you have coronavirus"; gargle salt water to prevent it....). She believed it was reliable because it came from her friend, who in turn received it from a friend (University of California Berkeley professor) who in turn had received it from a colleague at Stanford Health (!).

Increased social media and connectivity provides the perfect environment for the cancer of misinformation to spread. But misinformation in turn is just a symptom of a dysfunctional global healthcare information system.

So, in answer to your questions "how can people be encouraged to use safe sources of information? And what is the best way to debunk what someone has shared?"

At one level, we can talk about this in terms of symptom relief (eg "counter with reliable information", "point people to the WHO website" and so on).

But a more fundamental approach is also needed: misinformation is a symptom (one of many) of a dysfunctional global healthcare information system. We need better communication and cooperation among stakeholders in the system (with a particular focus on public understanding of science and health literacy); better understanding (of info needs and how to meet them; drivers and barriers; HIFA Voices - a new version is currently in development) and better advocacy (political and financial investment; inclusion of healthcare information in SDGs and UHC; stronger collaboration with WHO...). (For a description of the global healthcare information system, see our Lancet paper with Fiona Godlee 2004 [ https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(04)16681-6/fulltext ] and the HIFA website [ http://www.hifa.org/about-hifa/hifa-vision-and-strategy ]

Now that we have the World Medical Association supporting us (not financially, but in principle), I am excited about HIFA's potential to address these core issues, as described in our BMJ editorial 2 weeks ago:

https://www.bmj.com/content/368/bmj.m759.full

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