New Africa alliance aims to tackle deadly coronavirus ‘infodemic’

A new network in Africa aims to combat the “infodemic” of misinformation online surrounding COVID-19 and other health emergencies on the continent, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced.

The Africa Infodemic Response Alliance (AIRA), brings together 13 international and regional organizations, together with fact-checking groups which have expertise in data and behavioural science, epidemiology, research, digital health and communications.

Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, said the Alliance has the unique reach, knowledge and skills to help halt the impact of dangerous misinformation.

“In health emergencies, misinformation can kill and ensure diseases continue to spread. People need proven, science-based facts to make informed decisions about their health and wellbeing, and a glut of information – an infodemic – with misinformation in the mix makes it hard to know what is right and real”, she said.

AIRA is the first initiative of its kind, working to detect, disrupt and counter damaging misinformation on public health issues in Africa. 

Since the new coronavirus emerged late last year, digital platforms have been inundated with COVID-19 information, much of which is inaccurate and misleading, said WHO.

The agency cited statistics from UN Global Pulse, the UN Secretary-General’s initiative on big data and artificial intelligence.

Between February and November of this year, information about the virus has been shared and viewed over 270 billion times online, and mentioned nearly 40 million times on Twitter and web-based news sites, in the 47 countries of the WHO African Region.

Although a large proportion of this information is inaccurate and misleading, people continue to share content on social media, whether intentionally or unknowingly, which include conspiracies around unproven treatments, false cures and anti-vaccine messages.

While it is difficult to determine exactly how much misinformation is being circulated, WHO said fact-checking organizations in Africa report that they have debunked more than 1,000 misleading reports since the start of the pandemic.