Global Health Asia-Pacific Special Issue | Page 79

can give pathogens new abilities , such as making viruses more transmissible or more dangerous to humans . Conspiracy theorists have made claims that the COVID-19 virus resulted from alterations to a bat version of the virus that gave it the ability to replicate in human cells .
But these claims ignore several key facts about the COVID-19 virus , including that all coronaviruses from bats can infect humans without additional adaptation . The mutations that increased the transmissibility of COVID-19 occurred after it started circulating in people , resulting in even more infectious variants .
HIV also saw conspiracy theories claiming that it was created in a lab for genocide . But research has shown that HIV also naturally evolved from an animals . African non-human primates are natural hosts to a vast group of viruses collectively called simian immunodeficiency viruses ( SIV ). Despite their high rates of SIV infection in the wild , these primate hosts typically don ’ t experience symptoms or progress to AIDS . Throughout the evolutionary history of SIV , jumping to a new host species involved naturally occurring genetic changes over the course of thousands of years .
Miracle cures During a public health crisis , researchers and health officials are learning about a disease in real time . While missteps are expected , these can be perceived by the public as hesitation , incompetence or failure .
As researchers looked for possible COVID-19 treatments , others were offering their own unproven drugs . Multiple treatments for COVID-19 , including ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine , were tested and
abandoned . But not before large amounts of time , effort and money were spent on disproving claims that these were supposed miracle treatments . Similarly for HIV , frustration and anxiety from a continued lack of available treatments amid rising deaths led to fraudulent cures , with price tags of tens of thousands of dollars .
Even though treatment delays and changing guidelines are a natural process of learning about a new diseases as it unfolds , they can open the door to disinformation and generate distrust in doctors even as they care for infected patients .
Preventing misinfodemics The next pandemic is not a question of if but when and where it will occur . Just as important as devising ways to detect emerging viruses is developing strategies to address the misinfodemics that will follow them . The recent monkeypox outbreak has already seen similar spread of mis- and disinformation about its source and spread .
As author Gabriel Garcia Marquez once said , “ A lie is more comfortable than doubt , more useful than love , more lasting than truth .” Countering misinformation is difficult , because there are reasons other than ignorance for why someone believes in a falsehood . In those cases , presenting the facts may not be enough , and may sometimes even result in someone doubling down on a false belief . But focusing on urgent scientific and medical needs to the exclusion of rapidly addressing misinformation can derail pandemic control . Strategies that take misinformation into account can help other pandemic control measures be more successful . n
GlobalHealthAsiaPacific . com ISSUE 6 | 2022