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 on Thursday.
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.
Detect, disrupt, debunk
AIRA is the first initiative of its kind, working to detect, disrupt and counter damaging misinformation on public health issues in Africa.
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.
Collaboration and support
Among other efforts, AIRA will work collaboratively to counter false information around COVID-19 vaccines, in addition to complementing public health awareness raising and community engagement efforts, by creating demand for vaccines in the region.
The Alliance will also support journalists and media outlets to effectively share lifesaving information based on scientific evidence and debunk disinformation on health issues. African countries will also receive assistance in developing tailored infodemic management strategies, including analysing trends and behaviours.
AIRA members include the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO, UN Global Pulse, and the UN Verified initiative: the Organization’s own campaign against pandemic misinformation globally.
Misinformation: An old enemy
Although COVID-19 represents a new challenge to the global community, the President of the UN General Assembly recalled that the world has seen the dangers of misinformation before, including in response to disease.
“The coverage of the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine has decreased in some places, due to misinformation about the vaccine. Measles has become resurgent. Misinformation has taken us backwards”, President Volkan Bozkir said on Wednesday during an Assembly meeting on sharing best practices for the infodemic.
He emphasized that trust in institutions is crucial, as “people are more likely to turn to less credible alternative sources of information when they do not trust traditional sources.”
Mr. Bozkir welcomed steps taken by countries and international organizations to combat the infodemic, as well as UN efforts to counter “the scourge of misinformation, stigmatization and harmful health advice and strengthen trust in science.”
Republic of Korea offers support for smallholder farmers in Mozambique
The Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) donated US$5.7 million through the World Food Programme (WFP) for a project to support smallholder farmers in Sofala Province, central Mozambique.
The project will improve food security and livelihoods with a focus on climate resilience for smallholder farmers and will be implemented from this year in the districts of Chemba, Maringue and Caia in Sofala province and will benefit 36,000 smallholder farmers and their families until 2025.
The programme will work with the Ministry of Land and Environment, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and the National Institute of Meteorology (INAM).
Mozambique is one of the most vulnerable countries to the impacts of climate change. Over the past three years, five tropical cyclones (Desmond, Idai, Kenneth, Chalane, Eloise and Guambe) have caused human and material damages mainly in central Mozambique.
H.E. Ambassador Sung Jun Yeo said that he expects the project is going to be successfully implemented and 36,000 smallholder farmers and their families will have the capacity to maintain a stable livelihood and secure food through the project. “We hope that the friendly relationship between the Government of Mozambique and that of the Republic of Korea is firmly established through various grant aids from the Korean Government via KOICA,” emphasized the Ambassador.
“This generous donation from the people of Korea through KOICA will help change the lives of Mozambicans most affected by climate change“, said Antonella D’Aprile, WFP Mozambique Country Director. “By supporting smallholder farmers to become climate resilient, we are also protecting their livelihoods and food security of their families and communities. We thank KOICA on behalf of the people that we serve“.
The Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) was established as a governmental agency dedicated to providing grand aid programs of the Korean government in 1991. KOICA endeavors to combat poverty and support the sustainable socioeconomic growth of partner countries. By doing so, KOICA establishes and strengthen friendly ties with developing countries.
The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) is the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize laureate. WFP is the world’s largest humanitarian organization, saving lives in emergencies and using food assistance to build a pathway to peace, stability and prosperity for people recovering from conflict, disasters and the impact of climate change.
Somalia’s Economy Rebounding from ‘Triple Shock’
Somalia’s economy is rebounding from the “triple shock” that ravaged the country in 2020: the COVID-19 pandemic, extreme flooding, and the locust infestation. Real GDP growth is projected at 2.4 percent in 2021. This growth momentum is expected to continue in the medium term and reach pre-COVID-19 levels of 3.2 percent in 2023.
The latest World Bank Somalia Economic Update reports that the economy contracted by 0.4 percent in 2020, less severe than the 1.5 percent contraction projected at the onset of the global pandemic. Higher-than-anticipated aid flows, fiscal policy measures put in place by the Federal Government of Somalia to aid businesses, social protection measures to cushion vulnerable households, and higher-than-expected remittance inflows mitigated the adverse effects of the triple shock.
The report notes that the disruptions stemming from COVID-19 containment measures reduced federal and state revenue collection while increasing pressure to spend more on health and disaster relief. Large increases in external grants enabled the federal government to begin rebalancing public spending toward economic and social services and to provide funds for new social programs and emergency response projects to increase resilience.
“As Somalia embarks on the road to recovery from the triple shocks, policy interventions that raise productivity, create jobs and expand pro-poor programs will be key,” said Kristina Svensson, World Bank Country Manager for Somalia. “Creating jobs and ensuring that the most vulnerable are supported throughout the crisis need to be at the center of policy action and private sector response.”
Interventions to improve the investment climate and encourage the formalization of businesses to attract more private investment would include reforms focused on reducing the cost of electricity and improving on its reliability, leveling the playing field among private firms, reducing red tape, and broadening financial inclusion.
The special focus of the report is on the health sector. It highlights that 30 years of political instability has made Somalia’s health system the second most fragile in the world. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the sector under sharp focus and put investing in Somalia’s health system as an urgent political and economic consideration that is foundational to reducing fragility.
“Support for the health sector is an essential component of resilient and inclusive development and investing in health sets Somalia on a path to reaping substantial demographic dividends from improvements in life expectancy and reductions in fertility,” said John Randa, World Bank Senior Economist. “These investments are planned to contribute to improved health outcomes and strengthened government systems.”
The report also notes that strengthening Somalia’s health system is one of the biggest direct influences on improving human development and enhancing economic development in the country. The report recommends opportunities in the areas of health financing, health service delivery and stewardship to improve Somalia’s health sector. Incoming funding from the World Bank is aimed at helping Somalia focus on high-impact, cost-effective interventions that target the primary burdens of disease.
Only 2% of Covid-19 vaccines have been administered in Africa
More than 5.7 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered globally, but only 2% of them in Africa, said World Health Organization (WHO) chief, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Tuesday.
The UN agency is urging every country to vaccinate at least 40% of its population by the end of this year, and hopes to help ensure that 70% of the world’s population is by the middle of next year.
At a press conference on COVID-19 and vaccine equity in Africa, which is home to more than 1.2 billion people, Mr. Ghebreyesus informed that, so far, just two countries in Africa have reached the 40% target, the lowest of any region.
“That’s not because African countries don’t have the capacity or experience to roll out COVID-19 vaccines. It’s because they’ve been left behind by the rest of the world,” he said.
Mr. Ghebreyesus explained that “this leaves people at high risk of disease and death, exposed to a deadly virus against which many other people around the world enjoy protection.”
Risks and solutions
For him, the longer vaccine inequity persists, the more the virus will keep circulating and changing, the longer the social and economic disruption will continue, and the higher the chances that more variants will emerge that render vaccines less effective.
Mr. Ghebreyesus pointed to several challenges, with manufacturers prioritizing bilateral deals and many high-income countries tying up the global supply of shots.
He also highlighted a similar initiative, established by the African Union, the COVID-19 Vaccine Acquisition Task Team, known as AVAT.
This Monday and Tuesday, WHO representatives met with the leaders of AVAT “to agree on a way forward”, Mr. Ghebreyesus said: “Vaccine inequity is a solvable problem.”
Call to countries and manufacturers
He called on manufacturers to prioritize COVAX and AVAT. To countries with high coverage levels, he asked them to swap their near-term vaccines deliveries, fulfil their dose-sharing pledges immediately, and facilitate the sharing of technology.
The WHO chief also called on all countries and manufacturers to share information on bilateral deals, supply and delivery projections and to recognize all vaccines with a WHO Emergency Use Listing.
The African Union’s Special Envoy for COVID-19, Strive Masiyiwa, also participated in the briefing, alongside the director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, John Nkengasong, the Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa, Vera Songwe, and WHO Regional Director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, among others.
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