Overwhelmed with Week 1: So Much to Learn for an Aspiring Infodemic Manager

Today we enter week 2 for the WHO #infodemicmanager training. I still have videos and references to check out for week 1. I have so many pages of notes! So here’s how I’ll summarize the week – sharing my tweets and some reflections.

All presentations emphasized being science- and evidence-based. I’ve been writing posts for my Dok Bru Facebook page for years and I’ve kept it evidence-based. It’s hard because those peddling snake oil have pseudo-science explanations too!

Much work needs to be done for the Philippines. One of the comments on my most popular Facebook post on the polycystic ovarian syndrome was someone asking if it was ok to take a bath when one has menstruation. That was in 2018! A study by Briones et al (2018) which looked at adults from low-income Filipino families concluded –

“There was a high proportion of individuals who had problematic/inadequate health literacy among 50 to 70 years old in the study area. Socioeconomic characteristics such as educational attainment and healthcare access were shown to be associated with an individual’s level of health literacy. Despite the extensive health information available to the public, the level of health literacy still remained to be poor. This indicates that there is a need to evaluate if said information are easily accessed, understood, appraised and applied by individuals to make sound health decisions.”

Briones, Marla Vina & Palatino, Maylin & Agosto, Hygeia. (2018). Correlates of Health Literacy among Filipinos aged 50-70 years old Belonging to Low-Income Families in a Selected Community. Acta medica Philippina. 52. 239-244.

I’m learning new infodemiology terms too! I wonder if anyone in the Philippines has done a study on the index of infodemic risk.

Wait, there are more terms! I can probably build a glossary of terms after the training is done.

I’ve witnessed firsthand the infodemic in the Philippines. Despite my Facebook page having a narrow focus on endocrine conditions, I began posting about CoVID-19 and sometimes with mixed results due to the pandemic being highly politicized.

I’ve struggled with communicating to my audience in jargon-free Filipino. I find for example that Filipinos worry a lot about medications damaging their liver and kidneys and prefer “natural” products. One common misconception I’ve had to address multiple times was metformin damaging kidneys. My arguments have been met with disbelief by some. From saying, why would the FDA allow metformin to be sold at pharmacies if it was so harmful, why would the ADA-EASD consensus guideline recommend metformin as first-line for diabetes, and Metformin was originally developed from a plant (French lilac) to actually appealing to emotion. My own mother has diabetes and I’ve put her on Metformin. I’m your doctor, why would I prescribe anything that will deliberately harm you? At some point, someone told me that they hesitate to take the Metformin given for free at the local health centers because it was poisoned or that it may cause harm as they had seen with the dengue vaccine.

A most practical tip I got from this training is the truth sandwich. And now I’m reviewing my previous Facebook posts to see how I can improve. Framing is also important. I winced when I saw the title of my old post on Metformin, Nakakasira ba ng bato ang Metformin (Does Metformin damage kidneys)? Arrgh, don’t lead with the misinformation!

I’ve always known how difficult is to be a spokesperson but appreciated Dr. Tony Fauci even more as I listened to the tips for spokespersons. How can one be reassuring and honest at the same time?

Finally, let me end with the UNAIDS report on lessons learned from the HIV pandemic that can be applied to the CoVID-19 pandemic. Very eye-opening indeed!

I’m extremely grateful for this training opportunity. I’ve even learned to open WhatsApp daily! I love being on Elnor Group 1. We just worked on our first group assignment. It was a challenge because we all lived in different time zones, but we did it! Week 2, bring it on!

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