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Healthcare communication post-COVID 19: Need for new approaches and protocols to achieve resilience – SPONSOR: Datametrex AI Limited $

Posted by AGORACOM-JC at 12:00 PM on Monday, April 13th, 2020

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Healthcare communication post-COVID 19: Need for new approaches and protocols to achieve resilience

– Health communication was never so important in controlling the disease outbreaks as it is in COVID 19 pandemic

– The alarmingly increasing risk of misinformation through fake news on social media, termed as infodemic by the World Health Organization (WHO); and fear of such outbreaks in the future has put the communication at the core of resilience and response policies.

By: Siddheshwar Shukla

However, the scariest part of this pandemic is infodemic – a huge amount of misinformation and fake news on social media. “Our common enemy is #COVID19, but our enemy is also an “infodemic” of misinformation. To overcome the #coronavirus, we need to urgently promote facts & science, hope & solidarity over despair & division,” said Antonio Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations apparently announcing a full-fledged organized war against the COVID 19 infodemic. This proclamation from the top of the UN came about one and half months after WHO Chief Dr. Tedros Adhanom declared fight against the infodemic. “But we’re not just fighting an epidemic; we’re fighting an infodemic. Fake news spreads faster and more easily than this virus, and is just as dangerous,” said Dr. Tedros on February 14 in a press conference in Munich (Germany).

The announcement by the UN Chief was a kind of acceptance that the WHO required enforcement to fight against the infodemic. And, enforcement was rushed on a war footing as the UN and its various organizations such as Global Communication Team, Cyber Security Team of the UN Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and UNESCO joined the WHO’s efforts against the infodemic. Presently, all the UN bodies have joined the fight against misinformation from their perspectives. The pandemic has manifested the extend of misinformation and its impact on communities across age groups. In the initial stage of the COVID 19 outbreak, the misinformation was primarily non-intentional but now it has reached to the level of cybercrime posing threats of cybersecurity throughout the globe.

Fake news about infection and treatment

Detection and prevention are two pillars of the response plan for disease outbreaks like COVID 19 for which no treatment is available.

However, experiences of the ensuing pandemic show the maximum number of the fake was created on detection, diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of the disease. These fake news items are aimed at directly misguiding the healthy and infected persons on contagiousness and potential damages to be caused by the infection. The misguided individuals virtually end up increasing the number of cases in the society through their behaviors. Therefore, providing scientific information to make the people aware of the real causes of infection, do’s and don’ts to be followed during the period of disease outbreaks and appropriate preventive care becomes a top priority. ‘Myth Busters’, the online campaign launched by the WHO is focussed on combating the fake news items of this category thereby enabling the COVID warriors and various stakeholders throughout the world.

Starting from – Garlic, Vitamin C, Hot Water, ten seconds breathing control-diagnosis, the fake news items of this category have now reached to the extent of fake claims that ‘5G mobile networks spread COVID 19‘. “COVID 19 is spread through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs, sneezes or speaks. People can also be infected by touching a contaminated surface and then their eyes, mouth or nose,’ WHO has reiterated time and again. However, the fake news items are designed so meticulously that they convince uneducated and educated societies as well. The arson attacks on 5G cell towers across Britain and large scale uprising against the rollout of 5G telecommunication networks in the Netherland indicate the capacity of fake news to influence the people in the countries that have achieved cent percent literacy and are considered highly educated societies. Therefore, developed and developing, all countries are vulnerable to fake news but the situation could be more dangerous in developing countries as they have fewer resources to combat the infodemic.

Conspiracy theories on Pandemic

The fake news items and unsubstantiated claims of this category are targeted against communities, personalities, nations, international bodies and also the UN organizations. They may not play a direct role in the outbreak or escalating the intensity of the outbreak but the unsubstantiated claims of this category are dangerous for creating tension between communities thereby posing law and order problems.

India has faced unprecedented fake news for and against Tablighi Jamaat community after an event in Delhi attended by hundreds of foreigners from several countries became the nodal center for novel coronavirus outbreaks and caused a sudden rise in new cases. At the international level, China and the USA have been blaming each other for conspiring in the outbreak of the disease. The unsubstantiated claims of this category were often made by scientists, professionals, legislators, and even the heads of the states.

Besides, the credibility of the national, international and UN organizations is also being questioned. The US President Donald Trump and several other who’s who of the US has alleged that the WHO Chief sided with China and helped in concealing information that caused the outbreak of this magnitude.

The United Nations is yet to develop a mechanism to deal with the infodemic of this category. However, the nations also need to develop mechanisms to deal with conspiracies meant to provoke one community against the other as such strategies will be very crucial in managing the current outbreak and also in developing pandemic resilience policies for future outbreaks.

Cyber Security: Protecting the vulnerable

Due to global lockdown, millions of people have been forced to stay at home. The global economy has come to a standstill but a few businesses have developed the capacity to continue their operations online. Here comes the danger of cybersecurity.

In fact, all the businesses that are operating online due to global lockdown have been exposed to cybercrime. The cybercriminals can aggravate the problem by attacking the communication network of the governments, hospitals, hacking websites, influencing diseases outbreak dashboard, interfering with ‘myth busters’, sending fishing emails, individual emails, fake official order, and miscommunication of various kinds to hamper the fight against the disease outbreak. All these aspects need to be considered in the outbreak/ epidemic/ pandemic disease response plan for COVID 19 and also in preparing outbreak resilience plans for nations or regions in the post-pandemic world. Not only the smaller websites, but the big organization such as Coronavirus statistics site and the US Department of Health and Human Services have also faced cyber-attacks in the ensuing COVID 19 pandemic.

“The vast majority of cyberattacks – by some estimates, 98 percent – deploy social engineering methods. Cybercriminals are extremely creative in devising new ways to exploit users and technology to access passwords, networks, and data, often capitalizing on popular topics and trends to tempt users into unsafe online behavior,” said Algirde Pipikaite and Nicholas Davis in an analysis published at the World Economic Forum. The authors have suggested three broad strategies – step up cyber-hygiene standards, be extra vigilant on verification and follow official updates. Throughout the world, cyber-crimes have increased during the pandemic.

Children: The most vulnerable

Children are always the most vulnerable to misinformation and attack by cybercriminals. They can be misguided through video games, dangerous challenges, and tasks. These activities may expose them to infections.

COVID 19 is not much fatal to children but there are infectious diseases that can pose risks for children as well. Besides, children could be misguided and used as vectors for spreading the infection in the family, schools, playgrounds, markets, and communities. In the past, there have been several dangerous games such as the Blue Whale game and skull break challenge that had caused the deaths of several children. The governments will have to develop a robust cybersecurity system, cyber monitoring system and strict cyber laws to prevent the children from falling in the trap of cyber criminals during COVID 19 pandemic and also for developing resilience and response plan for handling outbreaks of communicable diseases in the future.

COVID 19 and the dangers of terrorism

“The weaknesses and lack of preparedness exposed by this pandemic provide a window onto how a bio-terrorist attack might unfold and may increase its risks. Non-state groups could gain access to virulent strains that could pose similar devastation to societies around the globe,” said UN chief Antonio Guterres addressing the UN Security Council meeting on April 10. Though any link to the terrorist organizations has not been established in the case of COVID 19, the highly contagious virus has posed a new threat to humanity. The countries will have to amend their laws to ensure the culprits are served strictest punishment, and outbreaks are detected and contained efficiently.

Public Health Communication in the Post-COVID 19 World

Communication has always played an important role in prevention and response plans against outbreaks of infectious diseases but the experience of the COVID 19 pandemic has increased its scope and importance. The role of communication in disseminating scientific information and rejecting fake news has become a top priority.

As the COVID 19 pandemic has taken the whole world into its grip, WHO and all the UN agencies are assisting nations in their fight against the outbreak of the disease. However, this kind of collaboration will be rare in case of local or national level outbreak of diseases in the future. Besides, internet-based technological innovations have provided cybercriminals with several new weapons that they can use by sitting in any corner of the world or through artificial intelligence. The policymakers and administrators will be required to consider several such aspects of health communication which were unheard of in the pre-COVID 19 periods. The existing disease outbreak resilience policies and protocols need a thorough review to deal with COVID 19 pandemic and challenges to be posed in the post-COVID 19 world.


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