Health

Coronavirus | ‘Infodemic’ management a serious challenge during COVID-19: Soumya Swaminathan

Soumya Swaminathan. File photo: AP  

Managing the “infodemic” has been a serious challenge during the COVID-19 pandemic, said Soumya Swaminathan, Chief Scientist, World Health Organization (WHO), on Wednesday.

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Virtually delivering the 15th JRD Tata Memorial Oration, organised by the Population Foundation of India (PFI) coinciding with its 50th foundation day, she said that even a commonsensical thing to do such as wearing masks has become a polarised debate due to the “infodemic”.

Defining “infodemic” as having too much information, including false or misleading information, particularly on social media, she said that it led to confusion, risk-taking and ultimately mistrust towards governments and the public health response.

She said that the WHO has been working with technology companies to address this challenge by directing the public to credible sources of information, taking down false and misleading information from online platforms, and developing chatbots in different languages that the public could use for accessing information.

State-wise tracker for coronavirus cases, deaths and testing rates

Dr. Swaminathan, however, stressed that tackling this was not a straightforward business as it was linked to people’s belief and behaviour.

On ‘shared appointments’

Pointing out the “shared appointments” initiative tried by Aravind Eye Hospital in Puducherry, in which more than one patient with similar problems are provided a consultation at the same time, she said that combining this with telemedicine could bring in a paradigm change.

Highlighting that telemedicine was increasingly being used during COVID-19, she said that shared consultations could provide benefits such as learning from others, higher follow-up rates, and higher compliance to medication.

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She said that COVID-19 had exposed existing social inequities and the importance of investing in public and primary health infrastructure. “We see examples of countries where investments in primary healthcare over the past decade or two have paid off,” she said.

She also emphasised the differential impact of the pandemic on women and children, and stressed on the need for governments to focus more on them.

Interactive map of confirmed coronavirus cases in India

Poonam Muttreja, executive director, Population Foundation of India, highlighted the achievements of PFI in the past 50 years.

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Printable version | Nov 26, 2020 10:58:32 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/health/infodemic-management-a-serious-challenge-during-covid-19-soumya-swaminathan/article32911994.ece

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