BlessWorld Foundation International

Affecting the World Through Health
A Global Health Initiative

Media Misinformation: A 21st Century Pandemic



It is quite difficult to imagine those times where people had to travel many kilometres in search of scrolls in a public library to access information; something that can now be done from the comfort of one’s bedroom using mobile phones and other electronic devices. The internet and social media have made a revolutionary impact on all aspects of human life particularly information distribution. As such, our lives have become interwoven with the internet; it is impossible to resist the urge of checking for screen popups on mobile devices. Despite immense benefits, the internet brings its own set of problems. Due to the anonymity and freedom of using the internet, anybody and incredible sources can share health information which can be false and disastrous to the society. Such false health news can come inform of an outright lie as exemplified in the Ebola crisis of 2014 in Nigeria where the use salt water bath against the virus was widely disseminated via social media platforms. Of course, this led to a catastrophe with several recorded morbidities and mortalities. Other ones can come inform of a health advice- for example “a combination of banana and coke is suicidal”. In fact, there are so many variations, but they all have one thing in common- they play on the irrational ignorance and fear of the public on health matters.

Not all misinformation regarding health matters are false or fake news, some are actually caused by the way health facts are presented which leads to over- magnification of risks. If you goggle about the statins- a group of drugs mostly used to lower blood LDL cholesterol levels, most websites focus more on the side effects like muscle pain but comment little on their benefits. Consequently, patients may be more likely refuse the medication due to a biased risk benefit assessment from the exaggeration of side effects. Another example of this irrational risk presentation is seen in the issue of vaccine use. With drastic reduction in the prevalence of many of the dreaded diseases like small pox, polio and others, the efficacy of vaccines are an established fact because it is clear that their benefits outweigh any risks. However, the overemphasis on the adverse effects of vaccines continues to increase the fears and doubts of potential patients. Additionally, the benefits of some health products can also be overemphasized as a form of advertisement strategy for the pharmaceuticals. It is not uncommon to find different brands of the same drug in stores- each claiming to have superior effect over the other and people could intoxicate themselves in a bid to combine these drugs for superior effect. Further, herbs are advertised to have magical healing effects for many conditions especially in developing nations. The public tends to agree with these claims mostly because of faith in traditional medicine and that these products are ‘natural’ but then natural doesn’t mean that something cannot cause harm. The public must know that anything can cause harm no matter how natural it is because these products don’t come with doses so there is great risk of intoxication.

Media misinformation can be reduced by proper education of the public through enlightenment and awareness programmes by health organizations or affiliates. People should be encouraged to seek health information from reliable and proper sources. However, it is bound to happen especially in less known diseases and outbreaks. Regular distribution of information-no matter how little, from registered health organizations is a line towards the right direction.

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