“We are fighting two pandemics”, warns head of university health body
A “tsunami of disinformation” around Covid-19 and vaccines is threatening health and wellbeing in South Africa, the head of the country’s university health body has said.
“We are fighting two pandemics,” Ramneek Ahluwalia, the chief executive officer of Higher Health, said during a lecture on fake news hosted by the University of Johannesburg on 31 March.
Higher Health is a national agency working on health issues in universities and tertiary and vocational education and training colleges.
Ahluwalia said, “There is the spread of the virus, that is where the energy is going. Then there is the spread of fake news and myth-mongering, which is a far bigger challenge.”
Ahluwalia cited conspiracy theories that claim 5G technology is harmful to people and that the danger is being disguised under Covid-19. He also mentioned false claims about the purported danger of vaccines.
He warned that Higher Health had seen cluster outbreaks at universities at the beginning of the academic year, and said he thought other “unknown super-spreader” events were occurring among university populations.
He also warned that a youthful and tech-savvy university population makes a Covid-19 infodemic “quite possible” because most misinformation spreads through social media.
Ahluwalia praised higher education, science and technology minister Blade Nzimande for his public debunking of vaccine myths. He added that interaction with student leaders and continued scientific education will be key to fighting fake news about Covid-19 and the vaccine.
“We need to ensure that our campaigns are very scientific and overpowers the myth-mongers,” he said.