American University of Beirut

Zeinab Awad: The new art of “health communication” to counter the new pandemic of misinformation

​As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads globally and in Lebanon, the Faculty of Health Sciences community in the American University of Beirut found itself in the midst of the response to this new pandemic. Faculty members and professors are joining efforts with stakeholders and officials in raising awareness about the virus, interpreting data on its spread, conducting research, and publishing policy briefs and response plans to help counter it at the national level and beyond.

At the same time, FHS students launched and took part in impressive initiatives throughout different fields and in various disciplines, playing a considerable role and making a significant impact from behind offices, and on the field.

Zeinab Awad, a Masters’ in Public Health student and a citizen of Bar-Elias, started in an individual effort to tackle the issue of awareness, information and communication, an essential and extremely sensitive field in times of pandemic and public health emergencies.

"During the COVID-19 outbreak, I am taking the chance to apply the health communication skills I have gained so far as part of the MPH program,” said Zeinab. “My approach was a fact checking initiative at the level of my village [Bar-Elias], in an attempt to combat infodemics and reduce people’s fear”, she added. “I have used WhatsApp to post in lay Arabic language about adequate COVID-19 preventive measures, mental health recommendations, Ministry of Public Health contracted hospitals for COVID-19 testing, and other COVID-19 updates.”

As the second biggest town in the Zahle district, Bar-Elias is home of around 60,000 inhabitants, in addition to a considerable number of Syrian refugees, which makes awareness campaigns, the provision of information, and most importantly, fighting the spread of rumors and wrong information, a crucial task to help contain the virus. These efforts contribute essentially in raising the individual and collective responsibility in community prevention and protection.

“All the awareness and communication materials were gathered referring to the Ministry of Public Health, the World Health Organization website, as well as other reliable and scientific sources such as FHS, AUB, and the Center for Diseases Control (CDC) website, as well as Bar-Elias Municipality personnel for issues related to the town itself", concluded the proud FHSer.

While billions of people in lockdown continuously monitor the behavior of COVID19, “misinformation” was described as a “silent pandemic”, since it poses serious threats on public health and has a direct impact on the spread of COVID-19. With it being at the roots of additional mental distress and confusion, combatting the “infodemic” phenomenon proved to be crucial in flattening the curve through promoting good practices for prevention, fighting stigmatization, and informing the society as well as the policy makers.​

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