The media has a strong role in the prevention, detection and response to infectious disease outbreaks , health experts have said .
They stated this during the brainstorming session on health preparedness and needs assessment tool development for media stakeholders in Lagos.
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The programme was organized by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) in collaboration with USAID’s Breakthrough ACTION-Nigeria and the African Field Epidemiology Network (AFENET).
Dr Chinwe Ochu, Director Prevention Programme & Knowledge Management said the media has the role of providing verifiable information to the public , fact checking misinformation and rumors as well as collaborating with health authorities to translate science to information .
She said NCDC in collaboration with other partners plans a training programme to integrate media stakeholders into future and current outbreak response.
Dr Ochu said one of the challenges the country had in responding to COVID-19 outbreak was infodemic. “That is an abundance of false information and people not being able to decipher what is credible information from false information.
“Everyone has a role to play and this why we are focusing on the media because it has critical roles to play in communicating risk and providing credible information to the people to enable Nigerians make decisions based on evidence.”
Yahya Disu, head , communications, NCDC said infodemic affects health by increasing morbidity and mortality, destroys public trust, and promotes risk-taking behavior.
He said it causes misunderstanding of health information and behaviour to adopt and mistrust in science, experts, health authorities and government.
While saying that it could undermine the emergency response and extend the epidemics or pandemics, he added that it is the root cause of stigma and could undermine social cohesion.
He said , “Poorly executed and uncoordinated infodemic management may lead to unintended consequences such as the sidelining and suppression of science in favor of political and commercial interests.”
He added that infodemic was complex and required a multidisciplinary and multi-sector approach to be successful.
“Continuous monitoring and analysis of data and information exchange patterns online and offline to be able to detect outbreaks of misinformation, rumors, falsehoods, to counter them with facts or other interventions,” he said.
Dr Aishat Usman, an epidemiologist and Field Coordinator at African Field Epidemiology Network (AFENET) said training on epidemiology would help the media have greater capacity to produce better quality health stories.
”Familiarity with technical aspects of Epidemiology will enhance ability to comprehend and accurately report complex issues,” she said.
Dr Olayinka Umar-Farouk, Deputy Project Director , Risk Communication, Breakthrough ACTION-Nigeria said training programme for media stakeholders is important because “Public health stakeholders on their own do not have the capacity to reach a critical mass with health messages, and media can reach a critical mass but does not have the technical information to pass.”