UNICEF and WHO Strengthen Response to COVID-19 Misinformation Across Lao PDR

UNICEF and WHO equip health authorities nationwide with tools to better understand and tackle COVID-19 misinformation, and other health challenges.

17 February 2023

15-17 Feb 2023 – As part of a nationwide training programme, UNICEF, WHO and the Center of Communication and Education for Health (CCEH), Ministry of Health organized a workshop on social listening for health authorities from nine northern provinces of Lao PDR to help them better understand and tackle misinformation around COVID-19, vaccination and other health challenges.

The workshop gathered health authorities as Chief or Deputy Chief of provincial Health Promotion section and Health Education Technical staff from all northern provinces. These include Bokeo, Houaphanh, Luang Namtha, Luang Prabang, Oudomxay, Phongsaly, Xayaboury, Xaysomboun and Xiengkhouang province, where the workshop was hosted.

The workshop covered online and offline techniques for social listening - the practice of evaluating public attitudes to understand trends and conversation around a certain topic – as well as new approaches to designing effective communications content, and simulation exercises to identify public opinion and address false news. A new dashboard system for social listening was also introduced as an advanced tool for social listening that will make gathering online opinions more efficient.

“I am very happy to have had the chance to take part in this training and to share and learn from the experiences of my peers from other provinces,” said Mr. Kaevang Xaytam, a workshop participant from Xaysomboun province.

Misinformation or rumor has proven to be a major obstacle towards increasing COVID-19 vaccination rates and is driving vaccine hesitancy among Lao people. As such, social listening is a powerful method to help understand concerns about vaccines, limit the spread of false news, as well as improve the way health authorities communicate to the public.

“Since the outbreak of the COVID-19, Xaysomboun province has practiced social listening but in limited forms. Taking part in this workshop has helped me deepened my understanding of what social listening truly is,” explained Mr. Kaevang. “I will use the lessons learned during the workshop to help my province better plan our activities for 2023, especially to build trust in vaccines,” he added.

“Social listening means we better hear people’s voices,” said Mr Visith Khamlusa, Director of Center of Communication and Education for Health (CCEH), MOH. “As we address vaccine hesitancy, and other health challenges, this is more critical than ever before. It means we communicate better and more responsively, and better support people’s needs and concerns.”

In addition to this workshop, UNICEF, WHO and CCEH have also organised similar trainings targeting nine other provinces of southern Lao PDR as well as at the central level for key mass organisations and line ministries including Lao media. The trainings are implemented by UNICEF and WHO via the support of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Australian Agency For International Development (AusAID), European Union and World Bank, who are providing funding and technical assistance on community engagement and capacity building for social listening on vaccination in Lao PDR, and support for broader health issues.

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