How do you know who or what to trust when it comes to health-care information? Though it’s more apparent in the age of social media — where panic-inducing word of the latest epidemic spreads like wildfire — fake medicine, and folk remedies have crowded out sound medical advice for centuries. Too often, people trust health-care information from sources that seem familiar rather than authoritative, even if that information is wrong.
Anahi Iacucci, a communications specialist with the Health Communication Capacity Collaborative, experienced this while working to counter misinformation in Liberia during the Ebola epidemic of 2014.
Her team wanted to understand why people believed the rumors their neighbors shared but not the official health reports they heard on the news.
“We realized that regardless of where information sits, that information is going to have an impact as long as it is connected to channels the audience trusts,” she says.
So what do you do?
A successful public health communications campaign gets the right information into the hands of the community’s trusted messengers.
The most accurate information will come from sources that have firsthand knowledge of medicine, either as researchers or practitioners. Local sources that are known and respected by the community will have more success than unfamiliar outsiders. A local physician or health center will also be more familiar with the health concerns of the community and know how to address them. For more general information, consult your national ministry or department of health.
Look to these other sources for reliable health information:
International organizations bring together knowledge from health professionals all over the world to set the benchmarks for medicine.
- The World Health Organization, particularly the Regional Office for Africa, is the global standard-bearer for medicine and public health.
- Your national branch of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Society provides materials and training on health promotion and prevention, from first aid to epidemic control.
Research institutions, like those at medical universities and some hospitals, have the latest and most detailed information available.
- Mayo Clinic is one of the biggest and most respected non-profit medical practice and medical research facilities in the United States.
- Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine is the model for American medical education and one of the top research institutions in the country.
Databases house a wealth of research papers. Their summaries provide clear and simple explanations of complex health issues.
- MedlinePlus is a curated database of patient-oriented health information from the United States National Library of Medicine.
- MSD Manuals are a digital collection of the world’s longest-running, best-selling medical textbooks.
Once you have found the information you want to communicate, connect with the groups and individuals that the public looks to for its information. This may be a local radio station, a community health worker, religious leaders or the market ladies who know everything that’s happening in town.
“It’s called community entry,” says Ajimegor Ikuenobe, a YALI Mandela Washington Fellow who is a primary care physician in Nigeria. “You have to go to those key stakeholders at first and get them to understand your vision and buy into it as partners.”
By starting with solid information and partnering with messengers that the community trusts, you will be able to build a healthier society.