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Infodemic: A serious threat to public health

By LAI S. REYES, The Philippine STAR Published Nov 09, 2021 5:00 am

As the coronavirus has spread and continues to take lives around the world, so have misinformation and infodemic.

Coined in 2003 by an American journalist, infodemic refers to “a rapid and far-reaching spread of both facts and rumors combined.”

A huge demand for information on the killer virus, its toll on healthcare systems, and the many unanswered questions about the pandemic have created the perfect breeding ground for myths, misinformation, and ludicrous theories.

While the spread of factual information could save lives, the proliferation of false or inaccurate information is a serious thread to people’s lives and to public health.

In an effort to empower Filipinos to make informed health decisions and fight the infodemic in the widely-interconnected digital space, the Department of Health, together with its partners the Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP), and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), recently launched the Healthy Pilipinas website, through a virtual event on its Healthy Pilipinas Facebook page.

“We’re launching this website to give Filipinos -- wherever they may be -- access to accurate information not just about COVID, but other diseases/ illnesses, especially with the proliferation of misinformation and myths on social media,” explains Dr. Beverly Lorraine Ho, DOH Health Promotions Bureau director.

According to Ho, the vision of the website is to become a “unified data platform for health promotion” for the Filipino digital public. Healthy Pilipinas is backed by the guiding principles of accuracy, inclusivity, collaboration, responsiveness and user-friendliness.

Internet use continues to be one of the biggest pastimes in the country, which underscores the need to reach Filipinos online as the world becomes more and more digital.

The dangers of infodemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has renewed our desire to get more information about this health threat, which continues to plague the country. Thank goodness for technology, we get a lot of information and become part of the discourse in real time.

“However, we have also seen the unprecedented and rapid spread of infodemic,” says Teodoro Padilla, PHAP executive director. “While the spread of factual information could save lives, the proliferation of false or inaccurate information is a serious thread to people’s lives and to public health.”

The Healthy Pilipinas website is linked to the COVID-19 pages of DOH for unified messaging and information on the pandemic and the government’s vaccination efforts.

It is for this reason that PHAP, together with its members Boehringer Ingelheim, Novartis and Pfizer, have joined the DOH in its campaign to promote the use of verified medical facts to empower the people and make health decisions based on accurate information.

“For example, scientific information on vaccines and medicines are expected to rapidly change with the ongoing studies on COVID-19. With an evolving science, sufficient public information will also be required to update the people about the new information that will help them keep safe and protected at all times,” adds Padilla.

As part of the biopharmaceutical industry, PHAP is in a position to provide the needed information.

“Since the pandemic, we have been collaborating with the DOH and our partners for a communications advocacy to impart highly relevant health information with the general public,” adds Padilla.

“We believe that we could all be healthy amid the pandemic. The lesser the people getting sick, the faster we unburden our frontliners, our public health system and the economy.”

A ‘Healthy Pilipinas’ for all

The Healthy Pilipinas website will be aligned with existing and future DOH efforts. There’s a section on Seven Healthy Habits, which teaches the public different health-promoting actions and behaviors.

The website is also linked to the COVID-19 and ResBakuna campaign pages of the main DOH website for unified messaging and information regarding the pandemic and the government’s vaccination efforts.

  At the Healthy Pilipinas website launch: (From left) Health Promotions Bureau's Aurora Banda Alfonso, medical anthrophologist Dr. Gideon Lasco, USAID’s Hoang Bui, DOH HPB director Dr. Beverly Lorraine Ho, and PHAP executive director Teodoro Padilla

The website will also leverage social media to allow sharing of long-form articles on existing platforms like the Healthy Pilipinas Facebook page, the DOH Twitter account, and DOH Viber community, among others.

“The Healthy Pilipinas website will be a credible source of health information. I envision this endeavor to reach more Filipinos as it expands and becomes part of our everyday life,” Dr. Ho says.

More than just addressing health literacy, Dr. Ho stresses that the website will seek to also enable supportive environments for health promotion. This would include tips, articles, and downloadable materials for local implementers.

“In this time of rampant disinformation, it is important that the average Filipino can get accurate and trusted information, especially in pandemic times,” says Michelle Lang-Alli, USAIDdirector of the Office of Health.

“As we celebrate the 75th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between our two countries and the 60th anniversary of USAD here in the Philippines, we reiterate our commitment to help improve the health of Filipinos, especially the vulnerable and marginalized.”

The Healthy Pilipinas website is a testament to the unwavering commitment of the DOH to reach more Filipinos worldwide and promote health and safety for all.