Minister of State for Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire has advised the media and other stakeholders against disseminating wrong or misleading information about health issues to the public.
He gave the advice in Abuja during the workshop on tackling health misinformation organised by Africa Check with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
The minister said that misinformation does not only severely affect public health but may also cause otherwise intelligent and rational persons to make decisions that are harmful to them and other members of the public as they share them.
He said public health services in Nigeria has suffered harm from misinformation and cited examples such as the fake news that polio vaccine was a secret ploy to sterilise children and limit population which resulted in Nigeria lagging behind in global polio elimination initiatives.
Others include panic and parents withdrawing their children from schools on the rumour that Nigerian soldiers were spreading monkey pox through immunisation, and the rumour to bath with salt to prevent or cure Ebola, among others.
He said: “Vaccine preventable and other illnesses that fester as a result of the effect of misinformation is at enormous cost in terms of state resources, personal and family distress caused, and time wasted.
“Misinformation and disinformation become truly harmful when people are dissuaded, or in turn prevent their children or family from accessing medical services they require. Such misguided acts result in mismanagement of otherwise simple health issues and needlessly increase mortality and morbidity statistics.”
While saying that government can utilise the media to disseminate health information, and combat misinformation, he said it is also useful to continuously engage community influencers such as traditional, religious and community leaders, and celebrities to reach the public.
Executive Director , Africa Check, Peter Cunliffe-Jones said that the organization was set up to tackle the harm misinformation causes to society – in Nigeria, South Africa and other countries.
He said that the workshop was organised because health misinformation was one of the biggest dangers observed in public health, and to bring experts from every field together to work out a way forward in fighting the problem.
Cunliffe-Jones advised journalists to check the information before publishing reports saying , “ Think about the real harm that health misinformation causes – maiming people or worse.”
Earlier, Dr Yemi Kale , Chief Executive Officer National Bureau of Statistics(NBS) said that while misinformation often comes in the form of promoting false data to the public, a fast-growing trend is the misinterpretation of data.
He said: “One sphere of endeavour where misinformation or misinterpretation of data can do real harm is with respect to health data, hence enormous resources are being devoted to ensuring high quality data for health policymaking for better health outcomes.”
Dr Kale enjoined journalists and other stakeholders to utilize the vast data resources at the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) to support their fact-checking, verification and validation mission.
Highlights of the event were panel discussions by experts and journalists on how misinformation hurts public health, what drives health mis-information and ways traditional and social media platforms can stop providing platform for fake health claims.