With the emergence of Delta and Lambda variants, public health advocates are emphasizing the importance of a united front in the fight against COVID-19. Themed “Call for Unity: Get the Facts, Get the Shots”, the ninth installment of Health Connect Forum tackled the new COVID-19 strains and the fight against health misinformation amidst the ongoing pandemic.
Dr. Cynthia Saloma, Executive Director of the Philippine Genome Center delivered updates involving the Delta and Lambda variants. “The Delta variant is fast replacing other Variants of Concern throughout the country. Vaccination and the practice of minimum public health standards are our best defense against these SARS-CoV-2 variants,” said Dr. Saloma.
In the forum, public health advocates also discussed the importance of slowing the spread of misinformation which could be a serious public health threat as it causes confusion, harms people’s health and undermines public health interventions.
Former Department of Health Secretary and Co-Convenor for Doctors for Truth and Public Welfare (DTPW) Dr. Esperanza Cabral recognized how infodemics, or the overabundance of misleading or fabricated information both offline and online, harm people’s health and cost lives. “[Infodemics] endanger the country’s ability to handle the pandemic.”
Dr. Cabral encouraged health professionals to engage with patients and the public on health misinformation as well as use technology and media platforms to share accurate health information, among others to thwart infodemics.
Ms. Celine Samson, head of the social media fact check team of VERA Files, a media nonprofit that probes Philippine issues and fact-checks false and misleading claims, shared recommendations on how to win against health misinformation.
“We truly believe that everybody can and should be a fact checker,” shared Ms. Samson. She advised that health experts and the media should help each other communicate correct health information, that people should correct others with empathy and care, and that the public be empowered with the skills to assess information sources and do fact-checking.
VERA Files highlighted five things to watch out for involving COVID-19 vaccine misinformation: (1) choice of words used, (2) language associated with conspiratorial thinking, (3) the individuals or organizations mentioned, (4) the cited scientific research findings, and (5) the promotion of traditional treatments as vaccine substitutes.
“With the reality of the increasing cases of COVID-19 in the country, the new variants coupled with the gradual roll-out of COVID-19 vaccines, we do believe that access to reliable and scientific-based information is more important than ever.” said Dr. Benito Atienza, President of the Philippine Medical Association and one of the reactors.
Dr. Lulu Bravo, Executive Director of the Philippine Foundation for Vaccination and co-reactor, concluded: “Whether one is a medical expert, a journalist, or an individual, we must all do our part and work together to fight misinformation.”
“I am fully supportive and associate myself with their remarks. Truth telling is the only way to go and the truth shall make us free,” said former health secretary Manuel Dayrit who was also present in the forum.
Dr. Minguita Padilla, Co-Convener for DTPW and the forum moderator, also led the Call for Unity to support health workers.
“I am wearing a red armband as you will also notice from several of our speakers today. This represents our support for our healthcare workers. We support them especially in their quest to be given the benefits due them. They do so much and ask for so little,” said Dr. Padilla.
“Today’s health forum gives recognition to all health workers across this country,” opened Mr. Teodoro Padilla, Executive Director of the Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP). “They are at this very moment risking their lives to save others. Please know that we stand in solidarity with you, our health workers, as you confront another surge of COVID infections. We thank you sincerely for all your efforts.”
The support for healthcare workers was echoed by Mr. Guillermo “Bill” Luz, a member of the Task Force Test, Trace and Treat (T3). “I’m fully supportive of [our health workers]. Our health workers are our heroes. Let’s really treat them and reward them as our heroes,” he said.