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UNAIDS and Africa CDC tackle misinformation around COVID-19 and HIV in Africa

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Two years into the COVID-19 pandemic and there is still much misinformation around the disease. This is fuelling vaccine hesitancy and undermining efforts to respond effectively and protect the most vulnerable.

To respond to misinformation around COVID-19 and HIV, UNAIDS and the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), with support from the German Ministry of Health, are organizing a series of training sessions to strengthen the capacities of African Ministries of Health and National Public Health Institutes. The sessions cover key areas of risk communication and community engagement on COVID-19 and HIV such as strategic communication planning, media engagement, familiariziation with continental and regional guidelines, social media and rumour management.

“These trainings aim at harmonizing and coordinating our risk communication and community engagement interventions on COVID-19 and HIV, and better engage our communities in the response to pandemics” said Benjamin Djoudalbaye, Head of Public Health Diplomacy at Africa Centers for Disease Control.

According to the World Health Organization, in the first three months of 2020, nearly 6 000 people around the globe were hospitalized because of coronavirus misinformation. Rumors on COVID-19, HIV, and most recently Monkeypox are reinforcing stigma and discrimination affecting populations which are already marginalized due to their race, economic status and/or gender identity.

To track and address rumors and fake information surrounding COVID-19 and HIV, UNAIDS and Africa CDC are running a rumor management system—a software that uses machine learning combined with human expertise to collect and analyze rumour data from open source traditional media (web-based, broadcast) as well as social media (Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp). The system enables the identification of false and misleading narratives and sentiments related to COVID-19 and HIV. Weekly reports are then consolidated and used by Africa CDC as an alert system across the continent.

The first training session was held on 28 June in Dakar, Senegal for eleven countries of the West Africa Region. Two other training sessions will be held in the central and north African regions in July 2022.