As Covid-19 continues to spread across the world, so too has false information about it. From inaccurate health advice to deceptive propaganda, misinformation, and disinformation related to Covid-19 are spreading around the world at a fast rate and taking lives. In the current crisis that the world is facing, false information has found fertile ground because everyone is trying hard to beat the virus such that it has also become so easy for people to fall prey to false medical advice.
In this context, false information, is usually created to increase user engagement in certain platforms with click-bait headlines, could be a matter of life and death if it encourages people to ignore public health advice, fosters discrimination or violence, or advocates for the use of untested remedies.
With many Malawians unable to decipher false news from accurate information, especially if such news is spread through the Internet, Malawi, just like many countries across the world, finds itself in a peculiar position where it needs not only to fight the Covid-19 pandemic but also the infodemic which is just as deadly as the virus.
It is this false information that has led others to believe that just because they live in the village, then they are safe from Covid-19 while those in urban areas have on several occasions been accused of being the ones spreading the virus. This leads to stigma and discrimination.
This infodemic has led people to take unprescribed drugs and excessive use of untested remedies. One can only imagine the side effects of such medication. It has become so easy to simply pass hearsay as facts.
The information gaps that exist could be attributed to government’s failure to be proactive in managing information and as well as giving out information that is timely and adequate.
Winning the battle against Covid-19 will require not only to focus on the virus but issues of information gaps which as it can be observed so far, if left unattended, will derail any effort meant to beat the pandemic. One wouldn’t be wrong to say that most of the resistance to behavioural change is because many Malawians lack timely and accurate information about Covid-19. One doesn’t have to go very far to find how even those one would think are well informed, are falling for false medical advice.
It is critical at this point that while huge efforts and attention are going towards slowing the spread of Covid-19, we shouldn’t lose sight of another global epidemic of misinformation which continues to spread rapidly and posing a serious problem for public health.