Global misinformation and information overload have characterized the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. Rumors are unverified pieces of information spreading online or person-to person that reduce trust in health authorities and create barriers to protective practices. Risk communication and community engagement can increase transparency, build trust, and stop the spread of rumors.
Building on previous work on Ebola and Zika viruses using Global Health Security Agenda systems strengthening support, the U.S. Agency for International Development-funded Breakthrough ACTION project developed a process and technology for systematically collecting, analyzing, and addressing COVID-19 rumors in real-time in Côte d’Ivoire.
Rumors were submitted through community-based contributors and collected from callers to the national hotlines and then processed on a cloud-hosted database built on the open-source software District Health Information System 2 (DHIS2). Hotline teleoperators and data managers coded rumors in near-real-time according to behavioral theory frameworks within DHIS2 and visualized the findings on custom dashboards.
The analysis and response were done in full collaboration with the Government of Côte d’Ivoire and implementing partners to ensure a timely and coordinated response. The system captured both widespread rumors consistent with misinformation in other settings, such as suspicions about case counts and the belief that masks were deliberately contaminated, as well as very localized beliefs related to specific influencers. The qualitative findings provided rapid insights on circulating beliefs, enabling risk communicators to nuance and tailor messaging around COVID-19.
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