Moldova: learning to fight health infodemics

Learning to fight health infodemics: future doctors train in the Republic of Moldova

31 July 2023

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Nicoleta Bodrug worked as a nurse at the Institute of Cardiology in Chisinau, Republic of Moldova. “I could see how much patients diagnosed with COVID-19 or hospitalized due to complications caused by the virus were suffering. Their struggle led me to become involved in the promotion of vaccination,” she says.

Now a sixth-year student of preventive medicine, Nicoleta is one of 30 future medical professionals from the Republic of Moldova who were trained by the WHO Regional Office for Europe to help to spot online misinformation about vaccination and counter it with facts.

Enabled and inspired by the training, these students continue to monitor 42 social media accounts and online media platforms, including those of well-known doctors and influencers, as well as mass media web platforms. When they spot vaccine misinformation, they report it and respond with evidence-based information and links to trustworthy sources, like the Ministry of Health or WHO. These actions are helping to curb the spread of misinformation and, by building trust in vaccination, helping to save lives.

Managing the COVID-19 infodemic

Infodemics are characterized as excessive amounts of information, including false or misleading information, in digital and physical environments during a disease outbreak, and the COVID-19 infodemic has been particularly overwhelming.

A deep dive into infodemic management took place during a training held in March 2023 in Chisinau, Republic of Moldova. It was organized by the WHO Country Office and WHO Regional Office for Europe, with financial support from the European Union. Medical students and specialists in public health and communication from the Republic of Moldova learned about the impact of infodemics on people’s health and work, about the role of social media platforms, and about ways of dealing with fake news and rumours.

Thanks to the training, Pavel Chisaru, a third-year medical student, feels better prepared to fight vaccination misinformation online. “I learned how to communicate on online platforms and social networks,” he says. “The spread of inaccurate information on different websites increases the degree of mistrust in vaccines and, consequently, decreases the immunization rate among the population. As a result, mortality and morbidity rates increase.”

Daniela Machidon, a fifth-year medical student, agrees. “We live in times when we receive information from many sources, and it’s not necessarily the most correct and truthful information that reaches our eyes and ears. That is why it is very important to know how to determine if the information is truthful so that we can share it and not contribute to misinforming the population.”

Putting training into action

As medical students, the participants are well placed to help to counter misinformation. Not only do they know how to combat misinformation through scientific arguments, but as future doctors, they have credibility among the population.

“I often saw posts or comments online related to the health system, including vaccination. Until the training, I did not know how to react to these negative comments, what steps to take to combat false information or how to respond to comments that are not factual. We have now been trained on how to access different official websites to retrieve truthful information and be as convincing as possible,” says Nicoleta Bodrug.

She and her fellow students are committed to monitoring over 40 social media pages and websites in the country, reacting, reporting, and engaging whenever they detect misinformation. The WHO Regional Office for Europe is supporting them by offering the latest information and messaging on vaccination (COVID-19 and routine immunizations).

In the months since the training, the students have been answering online comments and sharing links to trusted information. Each of the pages monitored has an average of around 4000–5000 followers, and since the students’ intervention with positive posts about vaccination, the number of negative comments has dropped considerably.

The WHO Regional Office for Europe has developed a range of tools to help with infodemic management, as well as monitoring and analysis of trends and response actions. Since the beginning of the pandemic, WHO has trained over 850 people throughout the region to manage the infodemic, issued a range of publications on infodemic management and established networks of infodemic managers to help to advance the field.–future-doctors-train-in-the-republic-of-moldova





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