UM don, Nobel Prize winner urge science community to combat Covid-19 ‘infodemic’

Universiti Malaya dean of Medicine Datuk Adeeba Kamarulzaman says the scientific community must be more proactive in dispelling misinformation, lies and myths circulating about Covid-19 and the coronavirus responsible for the pandemic. — Picture courtesy of Malaysian AIDS Foundation
Universiti Malaya dean of Medicine Datuk Adeeba Kamarulzaman says the scientific community must be more proactive in dispelling misinformation, lies and myths circulating about Covid-19 and the coronavirus responsible for the pandemic. — Picture courtesy of Malaysian AIDS Foundation

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 19 — The scientific community must be more proactive in dispelling misinformation, lies and myths circulating about Covid-19 and the coronavirus responsible for the pandemic, said two prominent HIV/AIDS researchers.

In a joint editorial piece, Universiti Malaya dean of Medicine Prof Datuk Adeeba Kamarulzaman and 2008 Nobel Prize co-winner Françoise Barré-Sinoussi warned that such misinformation could have deadly consequences, citing four decades of experience watching a similar menace hamper research on HIV/AIDS.

Adeeba is also the president of the International AIDS Society while Barré-Sinoussi was a former president.

“Many of those taking loudly to the airwaves and plastering the internet with false claims about Covid-19 — offering fake cures, downplaying the consequences, and ignoring those most affected by the virus — recall the tone of the AIDS epidemic’s early days.

“Although the AIDS epidemic taught us that misinformation is lethal, it also showed us how powerful the medical and research communities can be when they band together, speak up, and demand attention and action to address a crisis,” they said.

The two acknowledged that the scientific community were accustomed to objectivity, but said this did not preclude speaking up against falsehoods and misinformation about Covid-19 and efforts to contain the disease.

The unprecedented international collaboration on Covid-19 so far has shown what was possible when scientists and politicians cooperated closely alongside a well-informed populace, they said when noting that countries most resilient to the pandemic were those with these elements present.

They also urged governments to do their part by ensuring the scientific community received adequate protections and safeguards with which to perform their work safely.

“We need to rally behind our colleagues to show the world that they are not alone in championing evidence-based policies and interventions to combat Covid-19,” they said.

“Infodemic” is the term used by the World Health Organisation to describe the barrage of information — true, false, or dubious — that competed for attention and which makes it difficult to separate vital facts and conjecture.

Research into treatments and vaccines against Covid-19 has progressed at unprecedented speeds, but so have wild conspiracy theories and suspicions about the coronavirus and related matters.

Increasingly, there have been reports worldwide of medical professionals being threatened, targeted and stigmatised by sections convinced that Covid-19 was a hoax or who were upset at being inconvenienced by measures implemented to contain its spread.

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