False news and misleading info pose new threats to health

THE advancement of technology, particularly in the fields of communication and information delivery, is indeed of great benefit to consumers. With the advent of new media platforms such as social media and instant messaging applications on smartphones, the situation is getting better. 

Information is easily accessible and can be shared with others. Using this technology, information on a variety of topics, including health and medical issues, can be disseminated globally. 

The consequence of the dissemination of false information

However, unscrupulous parties may exploit this rapid dissemination of information to precipitate unfavorable outcomes. Some individuals, for example, disseminate inaccurate information about medications. As a result of the spread of this erroneous information, a few people have been misled, which has altered how they take their medications. 

Among the frequently propagated myths is the idea that medications for chronic diseases can cause renal damage. This misleading information makes chronic patients anxious about continuing treatment. In addition, the impact of the dissemination of false information worsens 

when associated with a pandemic. The World Health Organisation (WHO) uses the term “infodemic” to refer to the situation that arises when a disease outbreak is accompanied by a flood of false information that is extensively distributed through a variety of channels and methods.

The WHO emphasises the importance of successfully controlling and addressing the infodemic, as its spread will likely have the same repercussions as the real pandemic. For instance, false information regarding Covid-19 infection, treatment and prevention measures have led to public confusion and outrage. In fact, inaccurate information about covid-19 vaccines has led some individuals to refuse these immunisations. 

Sources of reliable information about medicines

The increasing number of fake news’ negative impacts on health indicates that people should be more wary when receiving information about medicines. It is recommended that the public seek health information from credible sources so that the information obtained is of higher quality and more reliable. Health professionals who treat patients themselves — such as physicians and pharmacists — are the best sources for health and medicinal information. 

In addition, the Ministry of Health (MoH) receives and responds to inquiries from the public regarding medicines through the National Pharmacy Call Centre (NPCC). The public can submit questions to the on-duty officers via the toll-free number, 1-800-88-6722. NPCC operates from 8am to 5pm, Monday through Friday (except on federal holidays). 

Websites and agency portals administered by the MoH also provide the public with accurate and useful information. The Know Your Medicine website — Info Sihat — and the MyHealth portal are just a few of the websites and portals that can be accessed. 

Furthermore, the public can now access health and medication information through social media. For instance, the MoH regularly posts varied information about medications for public reference on the Duta Kenali Ubat Anda Facebook page, Kenali Ubat Anda Instagram and TikTok profiles, as well 

as the Pharmaceutical Services Programme Youtube account. Information is available in several forms, including articles, infographics, posters and videos. 

Moreover, information about medicines is communicated through interview segments on various radio and TV stations. Current health issues and medications will be discussed with invited health professionals. During each of these talk sessions, the public will be given insightful advice and recommendations. 

Advice for the public 

Spreading disinformation is an irresponsible act. Some individuals intentionally spread false information to create confusion within the community. Therefore, members of the public who receive question-able information from uncredentialed sources should always verify the information and seek clarification from the relevant parties. Avoid sharing this information with others until its factual accuracy has been verified. 

Also, the public is encouraged to utilise the Sebenarnya.my portal, governed by the Malaysian Communications and Multi-media Commission (MCMC), to verify the authenticity of the received false information. Additionally, MCMC encourages the public to report any false information through the Salur kepada Kami section of the portal. The fraudulent information will then be submitted to the respective ministries and agencies for verification. 

The general public may also file a complaint with MCMC if they are aware of anyone disseminating false information on social media. Complaints can be submitted via the complaint portal, telephone, text, or email. More information on the complaint procedure can be found on the MCMC’s official website. 

Conclusion 

Technology that allows knowledge to be disseminated rapidly and broadly should be used properly. The public plays a role in preventing the propagation of fake news across the community. 

  • Mohd Shahiri Abd Ghapar is the senior assistant deputy director at the MoH’s Pharmacy Practice and Development Division. 

  • This article first appeared in The Malaysian Reserve weekly print edition