Global Health Asia-Pacific Special Issue | Page 78

Misinformation is a common thread between the COVID-19 and HIV / AIDS pandemics – with deadly consequences

Authors : Cristian Apetrei , Professor of Immunology , Infectious Diseases and Microbiology , University of Pittsburgh .
This article was published in The Conversation in August 2022 : https :// theconversation . com / misinformation-is-a-common-thread-between-thecovid-19-and-hiv-aids-pandemics-with-deadly-consequences-187968
Global Health Asia-Pacific is republishing it under Creative Commons licence .
The problem of misinformation has been so widespread that it has its own word : “ infodemic ,” a portmanteau of “ information ” and “ epidemic .”

Since health officials confirmed the first COVID-19 cases , misinformation has spread just as quickly as the virus . Social media may have made the amount , variety and speed of misinformation seem unprecedented , but COVID-19 isn ’ t the first pandemic where false and harmful information has set back public health .

Misinformation altered how people trusted their governments and doctors during the 1918 influenza pandemic . It fueled the 19th century smallpox antivaccine movements through some of the same arguments as those currently used against the COVID-19 vaccine .
What sets the COVID-19 pandemic apart , however , is the sheer magnitude of damaging disinformation put in circulation around the world . Data shows that regions and countries where disinformation thrived experienced more lethal pandemic waves despite vaccine availability . In the U . S ., for example , viewership of a Fox News program that downplayed the pandemic is associated with increased COVID-19 cases and deaths . Similarly in Romania , disinformation is a contributing factor to the country ’ s disastrous fourth wave of COVID-19 .
The problem of misinformation has been so widespread that it has its own word : “ infodemic ,” a portmanteau of “ information ” and “ epidemic .” Coined by journalist David Rothkopf during the 2003 SARS outbreak , it describes a situation where “ a few facts , mixed with fear , speculation and rumor , are amplified and relayed swiftly worldwide by modern information technologies .”
Infodemics can affect economies , politics , national security and public health . The COVID-19 infodemic became such a problem that the Royal Society and the British Academy released an October 2020 report noting its significant impact on vaccine deployment , endorsing legislation that prosecutes those who spread misinformation .
As a researcher who studies HIV and lived through the AIDS pandemic , I felt a sense of déjà vu as COVID-19 disinformation spread . In the 40 years since
the emergence of AIDS , society has learned how to cope with the disease with more effective diagnostics , treatments and preventive strategies , transforming AIDS from a lethal condition to a chronic disease .
However , there are striking parallels between the HIV / AIDS and COVID-19 pandemics that show the dire consequences disinformation can have on both patients and society as a whole .
Denying the existence of a virus or a pandemic There are people who deny the existence of COVID-19 . There are abundant claims on social media that the virus that causes COVID-19 has never been isolated , or it is insufficiently characterized . Others do not contest the existence of COVID-19 , but ignore the severe consequences of infection .
In general , these groups tend to also deny germ theory , claiming that infectious diseases are not caused by pathogens like viruses and bacteria . Instead , they promote the idea that pathogens don ’ t cause disease , but rather are a consequence of it .
Likewise , some denied the role of the HIV virus in AIDS infection . AIDS denialist Peter Duesberg was one person who disseminated this misinformation , which had been refuted by the scientific community at large . But his erroneous claim still reached the then president of the Republic of South Africa , Thabo Mbeki , who banned the use of lifesaving antiretrovirals in public hospitals . This decision resulted in the deaths of over 330,000 people from HIV / AIDS between 2000 and 2005 .
Mbeki ’ s decision was considered so damaging that scientists and physicians worldwide signed the Durban Declaration , reiterating that HIV indeed causes AIDS and urging Mbeki to reconsider his decision . While the government did reverse the ban after strong international political pressure , the damage had been done .
Gain of function claims Gain of function experiments involve manipulating a pathogen to understand what contributes to its ability to cause disease . At the same time , such experiments
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