The Nigerian government has expressed its commitment to addressing the challenges posed by infectious diseases such as the rampaging coronavirus pandemic, Cholera, among others.
Speaking at a pre-conference workshop ahead of the maiden edition of the Nigerian Conference of Applied and Field Epidemiology (NiCAFE), the director of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Chikwe Ihekweazu said his agency is working to strengthen infodemics management as part of national emergency preparedness and response framework.
He noted that the NCDC is working with the World Health Organisation (WHO) in that regard.
About the conference
The conference, which is being organised by NCDC, is aimed at strengthening the country’s preparedness for emergencies in cases of infection outbreaks.
According to the organisers, it is being held in collaboration with partners and scheduled to hold between July 26th and 28th with the theme: ‘Building Back Better- COVID-19 and other Disease Outbreaks.”
NCDC said the conference is focused on how Nigeria can build from the COVID-19 response to strengthen the country’s capacity to prevent, detect and respond to disease outbreaks.
While the event holds at the Transcorp Hilton in Abuja with a limited number of in-person attendees due to COVID-19 restrictions, many participants are joining virtually via an app known as ‘Whova’.
In the last 17 months, countries across the world have been affected by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. In Nigeria, apart from the coronavirus, there have been other disease outbreaks with Cholera currently posing another health crisis.
In the first quarter of this year alone, a total of 14, 343 suspected cases of cholera leading to 325 deaths, including 345 laboratory-confirmed cases have been recorded by the NCDC.
Though the cholera outbreak this year is yet to be declared a national emergency, health experts fear its repercussions on the country’s health infrastructure already strained by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a statement ahead of the event, Mr Ihekweazu said the NiCAFE conference “seeks to bring together public health professionals, laboratory scientists, field epidemiologists, researchers, health care professionals and other members of the public to reflect on the response to these outbreaks, review gaps in epidemic preparedness and response and brainstorm innovative solutions to strengthen health security”.
Strengthening infodemics management
Ahead of the conference scheduled to kickstart officially on Tuesday, nine pre-conference workshops focused on skill-building and experience sharing were held on Monday.
Strengthening the management of infodemics – misconception, mistrust, and scepticisms – that sprung and widely circulated with the outbreak of the novel coronavirus shaped discussions in one of the pre-conference workshops.
The session is themed: Managing infodemics during epidemics: COVID-19 as a case study.
A lot of misinformation rose because COVID-19 is novel and spreading fast, thereby putting pressure on fact-checkers and journalists to deliver accurate, balanced, and timely reports while countering false information.
Also speaking, WHO’s Infodemic Management Consultant, Abdulraman Danjuma, said that the outcome of collaborations among the national and sub-national governments as well as with partners and the private sector was to have an integrated Infodemic management system in the country for addressing public health response.
During the panel session on infodemics, the NCDC director of Prevention Programmes and Knowledge Management, Chinwe Ochu, harped on the need to train the media on ways to manage infodemics during epidemics.
She described infodemic as an overabundance of information, both online and offline which she said includes “deliberate attempts to disseminate wrong information to undermine the public health response and advance alternative agendas of groups or individuals”.
The official noted that ‘mis and disinformation’ can be harmful to people’s physical and mental health; increase stigmatisation; threaten precious health gains; and lead to poor observance of public health measures, thus reducing their effectiveness and endangering the country’s ability to stop the pandemic.
She advised journalists on tips to stay updated with verified information on infectious diseases especially in a time of crisis or conflict.
“Everyone has a role to play in managing rumours and misinformation, lets work together to provide the public with evidence-based information to ensure their safety,” she said.
Lessons from COVID-19 outbreak
Earlier, the first panel session of the day offered an opportunity for a stock-taking of just how severely the COVID-19 crisis has undermined global health goals and the lessons to be learnt using Nigeria as a case study.
Health experts detailed the setbacks they have sustained.
At a parallel session on the use of big data for epidemics, Nwando Mba, Director of Laboratory Services of the NCDC noted the importance of data during outbreak.
She said some of the setbacks Nigeria experienced during COVID-19 were as a result of inadequate data in some key areas, noting that data informs evidence and is the heartbeat of any outbreak response.
Meanwhile, Mr Ihekweazu said the event will feature eight keynote/plenary speakers, over 170 oral and poster presentations across various themes.
“These include governance and leadership, epidemiology, surveillance and transmission dynamics, case management of infectious diseases. Other conference sub-themes include social sciences and community engagement, the role of agriculture and environment in disease transmission as well as health system strengthening for future pandemics,” the official noted.
“The conference keynote lecture will be given by the Chief Scientist of the World Health Organization, Dr. Soumya Swaminathan on Day 1, and the Director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control, Dr. John Nkengasong on Day 2.”
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