Health Workers in Uganda: A Powerful Antidote to Misinformation

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In the summer of 2020, when the global pandemic was exploding across the world, WHO Director General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom explained “we’re not just fighting an epidemic; we’re fighting an infodemic.”

Today, misinformation persists despite a surge of infections that are causing societal disruptions and death in many African countries.  While countries work to mobilize vaccination campaigns and preventive public health measures, the impact of Covid misinformation can be profound. A multi-country survey from the Africa CDC noted that while a majority of Africans would take a COVID-19 vaccine, significant variations exist. In some countries, vaccine acceptance was measured above 90%, while in others it was less than 59%.  All countries and populations need to be protected from Covid in order to disrupt the transmission cycle and to prevent the emergence of new variants. As Seed Global Health CEO, Dr. Vanessa Kerry has shared “when it comes to the pandemic, no one is safe until we are all protected.”

To advance progress in the fight against Covid and support our in-country partners and governments, Seed Global Health has joined a pan-African coalition established by The Access Challenge, Africa CDC, Africa Union, and World Health Organization to respond to Covid and fight misinformation.  Through the One by One:Target COVID-19 Campaign, organizations across the continent are uniting to disseminate accurate information on COVID-19 prevention and vaccines.

For its part, Seed Global Health is leading efforts in Uganda by recruiting health workers to serve as campaign ambassadors and influencers, arming them with authoritative health content that they can share through in-person and online communications.

“The voice and authority of health workers can be a powerful antidote to misinformation” explained Chris Maddocks, Seed’s Managing Director of Partnerships and External Affairs.  “Through this campaign, we put health workers at the center of Covid education and behavior change by equipping them with information and online tools to spread authoritative health messages.”

In addition to their capacity to deliver care during the pandemic, health workers can serve as trusted messengers in combatting misinformation.  Research has shown that vaccine-hesitant populations generally mistrust official announcements and are more likely to rely on non-traditional sources such as local health workers, friends and family, as well as community and religious leaders.

In Uganda, the timing of the campaign coincides with the second lockdown of the country following spiking infection and death rates.  “A year into this pandemic, Uganda and Africa continue to fight this deadly disease” explained Ugandan Martha Kay in the campaign announcement.  “Now that Africa is experiencing a third wave of COVID-19, it is vital that all Africans are informed about the importance of vaccines to stop the spread of this deadly virus and prevent new infections.”

To increase awareness, the campaign in Uganda and other countries will take a whole-of-society approach to educate and inform populations.  In addition to health workers, the campaign will recruit musicians, celebrities, online influencers, and journalists to serve as “Africa COVID Champions”, equipped with Africa CDC approved toolkits containing accurate messages about prevention of the pandemic and about COVID vaccines.  Amplifying trusted local voices through online platforms aims to counter misinformation that perpetuates online.  As the authors of a 2020 study on vaccine hesitancy in the Democratic Republic of Congo describe “low acceptance in our study may be explained by the harm of social networks… Since the first COVID-19 cases, misinformation has spread across traditional media and social media.“

Seed Global Health will work with campaign partners and influencers in Uganda to distribute resources to battle the evolving rumors and misinformation that continue to arise.  As clinicians serve on the frontlines of health, they will also be serving on the frontlines of the battle against Covid misinformation.

While campaign activities will roll out across the summer and fall, the impact of this effort can be lasting.  As the campaign shared, “these tools and resources are necessary to end the pandemic and recover in a way that enables sustainable and resilient growth well into the future.”

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