Nigeria’s IMT Pledges To Build Trust During Public Health Emergencies

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The Nigeria Infodemics Management Team (NIMT) said it is working to build trust during public health emergencies, according to the Federal Ministry of Health (FMOH).

The head of advocacy and social mobilisation in the ministry, Mrs. Ezioma Madu said this at the end of a recent, four-day Nigeria Infodemic Management Team Review Workshop held in Kano.

The workshop provided an opportunity to share experiences from state infodemic management teams, step-down learning from the 2022 Social and Behavior Change Communication (SBCC) Summit in Morocco, and reviewed the Nigeria Infodemic Management Operational guideline.

The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the impact of misinformation, disinformation and information disseminated with mal-intent on the effectiveness of public health action and national health security.

The four-day workshop examined the country’s public health infodemics, the COVID-19 infodemic, the impact of infodemics on trust in the public health enterprise, and tools and practices to address infodemics. It is built on what is known about risk and crisis communication to generate actionable, targeted insights that state, local, and community-based organisations and officials can take to prevent and respond to the negative health effects of an infodemic.

Participants and discussants developed a shared understanding of the modern health information ecosystem and examined the impact of infodemics during a public health emergency (PHE). They also examined the public health skills, capacities and policies that are needed to manage infodemics during a PHE and throughout the disaster management cycle. The roles, responsibilities and partnerships among all relevant organisations and agencies in managing infodemics during a PHE were identified, and interventions to mitigate the harmful effects of infodemics ‘mis-, dis-, and malformation’ were examined. 

The representative of the director-general of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Yahya Disu said in a world where information flows freely and rapidly, it was important to ensure that Nigerians have access to accurate and reliable information, especially during any pandemic.

Infodemics, or the overabundance of information, both true and false can be overwhelming, confusing and can lead to the spread of misinformation, distrust and fear. This is particularly true in the context of pandemics, where accurate and timely information is essential to curb the spread of the disease and instill trust within communities.

Building and strengthening infodemic management systems as a tool for risk communication and community engagement in the country is vital for pandemic preparedness, instilling trust within communities, encouraging positive behaviour change and addressing misinformation and disinformation at its source, he added. Learning from the experiences shared by the state infodemic management showed that community-based stakeholders are critical for the success of infodemic management.

Ms. Racheal Abujah, a senior health correspondent defined fake news as spreading false information with the intent of deceiving the audience. She said that what makes the topic so complicated is that Nigerians can sit and scroll on social media and see articles published or promoted with no way of knowing how true the information is.

“For me, this was never a topic someone taught me, so I can see why people believe in what’s on the internet. However, with the amount of fact-checking software and websites, I think it might be a good idea for tech companies to start getting involved and going through the posts on their platforms to ensure correct information is being spread.”

The NIMT held its first strategy workshop in 2023, which brought together the NIMT states and the national team over a four-day period to share lessons learned since the launch of the NCDC-hosted network, to fashion out ways to respond to the changing nature of the health communications needs of stakeholders – through collaborative approaches.

Racheal Abujah
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