Joana Domingos had long ago lost trust in the official COVID-19 information provided by Angola’s national government.
The mother of two had come to believe that the COVID-19 vaccine was part of a global scheme to exterminate the most vulnerable, based on misinformation she had received via text messages.
“I was bewildered and scared that COVID-19 would murder my children and me,” she adds, recounting how she and her family locked themselves inside their Luanda house. “I made the decision to quit working, keep my children home from school, and avoid contracting the COVID-19 virus.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Ministry of Health in Angola developed the COVID-19 Alliance Project to safeguard the public from the hazards of rumors and misleading information produced by the perils of misinformation in public health and pandemic response.
Factos Sade is a platform for preventing disinformation. It enlists a strategic network of partners to monitor and rapidly respond to disinformation, as well as engage in dialogue on social media and in communities. The platform is part of the COVID-19 Alliance Project, which was launched in July 2020 to ensure regular monitoring of pandemic discourse on social media.
Factos Sade has been critical in tracking rumors, assuring social listening, and promoting health and wellness education and awareness. Since its inception, the site has developed and released 150 debunking documents, which have been extensively shared on social media platforms like Facebook and WhatsApp.
“The initiative to combat COVID-19 disinformation has been crucial not only in monitoring and disputing rumors, but it has also offered credibility and support to the health authorities in their battle against this epidemic,” said WHO Representative in Angola, Dr. Djamila Cabral. “This project also allows for the early identification of public issues, doubts, and concerns that must be addressed.” It is our common responsibility to ensure that our folks are appropriately informed and safeguarded from potentially harmful situations.
WHO is supporting infodemic management training for Ministry of Health personnel involved in pandemic response, in partnership with the Alliance for Infodemic Management, to ensure the new rumour management method’s long-term survival. So far, five training sessions have been organized to prepare technicians to quickly recognize and rebut health misinformation myths.
The Ministry of Health intends to expand on this expertise by establishing a Rumour Management Laboratory that can track, monitor, and debunk health-related rumours in scenarios other than COVID-19 with the help of WHO. The goal is for this institution to contribute significantly to the improvement of Angolan health and well-being.
“WHO will continue to engage with governments to protect people from disinformation, which stymies pandemic response efforts and puts our families’ health at risk,” Dr. Cabral said.
One year later, Joana claims to be healthier and more informed.
“I feel that if I had had access to Factos Sade at the time, I would not have taken rash decisions or been terrified of the health authorities’ measures,” she continues.