DILI, 09 october 2023 (TATOLI) – The government of Timor-Leste, through the leadership of the Ministry of Health, and the National Public Health Institute, together with UNICEF organized the first-ever training on strengthening the Ministry of Health’s capacity to mitigate medical misinformation in Timor-Leste.
The five-day training (09 to 13 october) aimed at improving the public health officers and public health institutions’ capacity to build resilience against medical misinformation during an infodemic.
Director General of the National Institute of Public Health and the Specialist of Global Health and Health Diplomacy, Frederico Bosco Alves said that the training is essential to improve the ability of health professionals to respond rightly to address medical misinformation.
Ainhoa Jaureguibeitia, UNICEF Deputy Representative to Timor-Leste said that UNICEF is proud to support this training in Timor-Leste to build the capacity of the Ministry of Health at both the national and sub-national levels: “This means that as a follow-up to this training, UNICEF will support training for the District Public Health Officer of Health Promotion, Expanded Program on Immunization managers, and focal points from municipal and community health centres. We estimate that more than 150 people will benefit from this training across the country.”
“As part of our efforts to mitigate misinformation in the country, Timor-Leste has the global initiative to address misinformation. This initiative was introduced in 2022, and supported by UNICEF HQ in collaboration with Public Good Projects (PGP) using the Vaccine Demand Observatory (VDO) platform. This initiative led to the establishment of the Ministry of Health Management Taskforce,” she said.
“From this training, we hope that the Ministry of Health will be able to officially launch the misinformation task force so that they will work systematically and swiftly in response to any upcoming misinformation to avoid the misinformation spreading widely in the community and impacting people’s decisions to take up health services.”
Jaureguibeitia stressed that gains in maternal and child health can be reversed if people do not receive accurate information, which will give them the confidence to continue positive health-seeking behaviors even during the times of the pandemic: “It is for this reason that many countries have built infodemic management capacities during the COVID-19 pandemic, which today are being applied it to monitoring and addressing infodemic harms related to other outbreaks.”
When COVID-19 was declared a pandemic globally in march 2020, Governments across the world worked closely with stakeholders including United Nations Agencies and Civil Society Organizations, to find solutions to successfully contain the crisis.
While a range of important response measures were being put in place to stop the spread of the virus and to save the lives of those with the virus, the world found itself faced with a different kind of problem – Infodemic.
The World Health Organization explains an infodemic as too much information circulating during a disease outbreak, including false or misleading information in digital and physical environments.
“Yes, it is a normal inclination of people to turn to different sources of information in search of answers, especially when the disease that is spreading is new. Sadly, some of the platforms used to access information generate false and alarming information which often triggers a lot of fear, confusion, and panic among people. In addition, an infodemic can result in risk-taking and harmful behaviors among people,” Jaureguibeitia said.
In Timor-Leste, the fears created by misinformation hugely contributed to declines in the number of people accessing essential health services like maternal and child health services, immunization services, family planning services, and treatment for malnutrition.
Jaureguibeitia expressed her deep appreciation to USAID and DFAT for their continuous and consistent added financial and technical support to improve the health status of children and their communities in Timor-Leste.
She also extended her appreciation to the Ministry of Health and the National Public Health Institute, who have made great progress in enhancing institutional capacity for better health services for children and populations across the country.
Journalist: José Belarmino De Sá
Editor: Filomeno Martins