HealthBuddy+: A new partner in fighting disinformation on COVID-19
Skopje, 24 March 2021: Today UNICEF and WHO in cooperation with the Ministry of Health and with the support from USAID launched the HealthBuddy+ mobile application providing access to up-to-date and verified information on COVID-19.
“Disinformation is one of the biggest challenges in fighting COVID-19. Therefore, we expect that this practical tool, offering access to accurate and verified information, will help users stay up to date on COVID-19, but will also improve our personal and collective strength to counter disinformation and myths surrounding the virus and COVID-19 vaccines,” said dr. Venko Filipche, Minister of Health.
Developed by WHO/Europe and UNICEF Europe and Central Asia Regional Office, HealthBuddy+ was designed to help countries in the region to access COVID-19 facts and to allow communities to take active role by reporting rumours and misinformation. The same application is available for all countries of the Europe and Central Asia region in their local languages.
“To fight the pandemic and the infodemic, we need to build trust. Disinformation has real consequences because it affects people’s behavior, and children and young people are especially vulnerable. It takes advantage of the weaknesses in societies, it undermines confidence in science and medicine, and it can cost lives,” said Patrizia Di Giovanni, UNICEF Representative. “We must join forces to fight it and to promote science-based public health advice.”
In the past year, COVID-19 disinformation has been hindering the pandemic response. The latest UNICEF data show children and young people are especially vulnerable, with up to 3 in 4 young people globally not being confident in their ability to verify the truth of information online.
“Public health authorities’ response to the pandemic is being challenged by an avalanche of misinformation on the Internet and social media. Together with UNICEF, WHO aims to make the Health Buddy+ chatbot a reliable source of information and advice related to COVID-19. There is no reason why people could not obtain the right information. We encourage the health professionals and the public to use this innovative tool that delivers accurate, timely and tailored messages about COVID-19, based on evidence we are gathering every day” said Dr. Jihane Tawilah, WHO Representative.
“The extensive use of disinformation as a tool to destabilize governments and democratic processes around the world is truly alarming. The spread of unverified and misleading information related to COVID-19 has had exceptionally serious consequences, contributing globally to the rising death toll of those we have lost to the virus, as well as vaccine scepticism. The pandemic has underscored our serious need for reliable and trustworthy channels of evidence-based information here in North Macedonia, in the region, and around the world,” said H.E. Kate Marie Byrnes, Ambassador of USA in North Macedonia.
At the event, Simon van Woerden, Risk Communication Officer, WHO Regional Office for Europe and Sergiu Tomsa Regional Behaviour and Social Change Specialist, from the UNICEF Regional Office gave reflections on the regional initiative, the unique advantages of HealthBuddy+ and the support for the country rollout. They also joined Zaneta Trajkoska, Director of Institute of communication studies and Biljana Petkovska, Director of Macedonian Institute for media in a panel discussion on “Disinformation and the COVID-19 pandemic” and addressed key questions on the danger of disinformation in the context of COVID-19, the importance of tracking and understanding misinformation to inform risk communication strategies and the role of media literacy.
The application HealthBuddy+ presents several features to maximize the users’ experience and ability to find the answers they are looking for. Through the chatbot, users can get the answers to questions on COVID-19; through polls they can share thoughts on critical aspects of the COVID-19 response, and through the rumour reporting tool users can report rumors. A team of experts fact checks the rumor and updates the app with new important information.
The application is continuously updated to bring the audience the latest scientific findings and answers they are looking for and data and analytics received in HealthBuddy+ can further be used to inform national health authorities and support the risk communication strategy.
UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.
For more information about UNICEF and its work for children, visit www.unicef.mk.