By Doosuur Iwambe, Abuja
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has said that misinformation a bigger threat affecting COVID-19 response efforts in Nigeria.
To this end, the global health body tasked health journalists to always equip themselves with relevant knowledge and information to ensure proper reporting.
Speaking during a two-day annual conference of the Association of Health Journalists (ANHEJ), in Nasarawa State on Thursday, the WHO Health Emergency Information & Risk Assessment (HIM) Lead, Dr Geoffrey Namara said, effective communication is the only vital tool that guides the public towards appropriate services and treatment.
In his presentation titled:”Understanding key outbreak metrics for accurate reporting”, Dr Namara said, it was unfortunate that conspiracy theories, misinformation and other factors have prevented most Nigerians from accepting the vaccines.
He urged health journalists to use the platform to delibrate and brain storm with critical stakeholders on relevant information that will convince Nigerians to accept the COVID-19 vaccines.
He said, “Public health is key in community awareness and the media plays vital role in reaching the communities.
“Effective communication guides the public towards appropriate services and treatment which helps to prevent or reduce the spread of the disease.
“Misinformation poses a great threat to response efforts.
Journalists must be equipped with relevant knowledge to ensure proper reporting in a health emergence”.
He added that the without testing data, effort to eliminate the pandemic will not be achieved.
Earlier, the WHO Nigeria Communication Officer, Charity Warigon said, there is much to attain in driving confidence in the vaccination effort by building trust.
She said, the theme of the conference, “improving confidence in COVID-19 vacvine in Nigeria beyond 2021: the role of the media” is apt as journalists remain vital in achieving the goal of keeping Nigerains safe from the pandemic.
“Journalists can only improve on what we have achieved so far and even do better, as there is so much to attain in driving confidence in the vaccination effort by building trust and continuously being a trusted and reliable source.
“The COVID-19 pandemic, unlike any pandemic in history, has affected everyone and every country in a manner unexpected, although there had been calls and available support to nations to build their health systems and security in preparation for future outbreaks.
“In the earlier phases of the pandemic, there was the absence of sufficient knowledge to inform the development of vaccines as the sciences were limited, which were exploited by mischief makers, through what we call, infodemics.
“If we are to build and/or maintain trust, this noble group and profession are one out of a few that have historically been proven to be trusted to provide information that shapes the behaviour and lives of generations of peoples the world over.
“The media and journalists are the bridge between scientists and the public. It behoves every member of the Fourth Realm of the Estate to, as social responsibility, ensure the provision of accurate, timely, credible, understandable, relevant, and actionable information through various communication channels.
“Our messaging must continue to remind the public that, for the foreseeable future, we must continue to wear masks, physically distance, and avoid the crowd. Being vaccinated doesn’t mean that we can throw caution to the wind and put ourselves and others at risk: relaxing public health and social measures interventions should be done cautiously and with careful attention paid to those who remain unvaccinated”.
“On its part, WHO remains resolute in sustaining this mutually beneficial partnership with AHNEJ, towards promoting health and wellbeing, keeping the world safe and serving the vulnerable, to achieve Universal Health Coverage and ensure that no one is left behind,” he stated.
“Our messaging must continue to remind the public that, for the foreseeable future, we must continue to wear masks, physically distance, and avoid crowd. Being vaccinated doesn’t mean that we can throw caution to the wind and put ourselves and others at risk: relaxing public health and social measures interventions should be done cautiously and with careful attention paid to those who remain unvaccinated.
“It is a privilege for me to, on behalf of WHO, congratulate you on the occasion of the successful hosting of this important conference, organized by the Association of Nigeria Health Journalists”, she added.
On his part ANHEJ President, Hassan Zaggi in his welcome address lamented that even though the Federal Government is making efforts to achieve herd immunity against COVID-19, some enemies of progress are working hard to frustrate the efforts.
He said, as critical stakeholders in the sector, the conference will accord the opportunity to brainstorm on the uptake of the COVID-19 vaccine.
“Colleagues, you will agree with me that issues surrounding the uptake of COVID-19 vaccine have been source of concern to us due to vaccine hesitancy arising from several factors.
“Some of these factors include conspiracy theories on the safety of the vaccines, fear of the unknown, false and misinformation on social media platforms amongst others.
“This, has, however, led to foot-dragging by most Nigerians to uptake the vaccine despite all sincere efforts by the government.
“As journalists covering the health sector, we are deeply worried by the way most Nigerians are not willing to uptake the vaccine even though the country has been applauded globally for its effort in COVID-19 vaccine roll out.
“We are also concerned that if urgent actions are not taken, the federal government’s target to vaccinate 55 million residents of Nigeria by the end of January, 2022, which is 50% of the target population, may not be visible.
“Ladies and gentlemen, in the next two days, we will channel our energy towards finding workable strategies on how health journalists can convince Nigerians to take the COVID-19 vaccines”, Zaggi said.