The 1st WHO Infodemic Management Training programme kicks off next week, and participants will come together during 8 sessions that will take place over the course of the next four weeks.The training programme received over 650 applications from 83 countries, and this very competitive selection process resulted in a cohort of 270 trainees.
The training has been co-sponsored by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention and RCCE collective service. Technical expertise is being provided by First Draft, a non-profit that works globally to tackle misinformation.
Organizing the training programme has been a complicated logistical exercise. The number and location of this first cohort means the sessions will be repeated twice per day to allow everyone to join the sessions live to ask questions and to interact with their fellow learners. During the 34 hours of programming, there will be 46 different speakers sharing their expertise with the participants.
The training programme has been driven by a recognition of the harm being caused by false and misleading health information circulating in online spaces, low quality news outlets and in peer to peer discussions. By the end of the training, participants will have a thorough grounding in infodemic management. This includes an understanding that public health professionals need to share accurate, engaging, sharable content as well as using techniques to counter misinformation when it starts to cause harm to communities.
The course includes practical training on tools for monitoring rumors, fact-checking and verification, as well as learning how to respond effectively and testing interventions to slow down the spread of misinformation. There are also guest speakers from UNICEF, Google and Facebook and most importantly representatives from country based Ministries of Health who will be talking about their current challenges with the infodemic and the lessons they have learned.
At the first welcome event, 188 learners interacted over Zoom sharing experiences and hopes for the upcoming weeks. The session included an information ‘crisis’ simulation, where participants played the role of a public health communications officer in a major North American city and had to make decisions based on a fictional public health incident, where rumors were swirling all over social media. Would they hold a press conference? Or debunk rumors directly on the different social media platforms? Or would they wait for more information? The simulation was designed to highlight the different challenges involved in infodemic management today, and to preview some of the key elements of the training programme.
As one of the participants posted during the simulation: “This feels like a ‘choose your own adventure game.” The training has been designed to be interactive, engaging and practical. By the end of the training, participants who will successfully pass the assessment will join the WHO roster of infodemic managers to be deployed to countries, where they will be thrust into real-life situations that will feel far from an adventure game.
The training team are very excited to work with these experienced professionals from the fields of epidemiology, risk communication, health service delivery/health care workers, digital health, policy making, and others who are responding to the current COVID-19 and overlapping infodemics at country level.