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PNG Born Rugby Star And Health Experts Come Together To Tackle COVID-19 Misinformation

Rugby player Will Genia joins regional health experts to call out the spread of misinformation on Covid-19 and press urgency of vaccine uptake across the Pacific

PNG born rugby champion and UNICEF Ambassador, Will Genia, has joined health experts from the World Bank and Marshall Islands’ health sector on the latest episode of Pacific podcast Vosa to discuss the Covid-19 vaccine and the need to combat misinformation across the Pacific and Papua New Guinea.

In the episode, host Arieta Rika speaks to Mr Genia, together with the World Bank PNG’s Dr Edith Kariko, and Marshall Islands’ Francyne Wase-Jacklick to discuss vaccine uptake and the proliferation of misinformation around Covid-19 and vaccines. The guests also discussed urgent measures to encourage community members to get vaccinated, with the vaccine beginning to be administered in Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Fiji and elsewhere.

In the new episode Will Genia, insisted that combating misinformation is key.

“Obviously now with everything escalating in Papua New Guinea, we have to take this seriously and dispel the misinformation and misunderstanding around the vaccine,” Genia said.

Genia, whose brother in Port Moresby had recently contracted COVID-19, is focused on the complexity of combating misinformation in Papua New Guinea: “It’s a very difficult thing to do with the language barrier around how many languages we have in our country. The nature of the country with communal living and lack of resources; it’s quite hard unless individuals take it seriously.”

Dr Edith Kariko, Senior Health Specialist for the World Bank in PNG, says that while all new vaccines naturally bring some level of uncertainty, people must remain focused on community and family when considering whether to get vaccinated. “Of course, with every new thing there comes that level of nervousness, but I would encourage everyone to think about protecting not just themselves, but their families as well when they make these decisions.”

On the issue of significant misinformation and conspiracy theories related to Covid-19 being shared in PNG and the wider region, Dr. Kariko pointed to the importance of ensuring the right information is conveyed simply and effectively for rural PNG audiences. “As a public health specialist, I think facts must be interpreted for everyone’s consumption. How we receive information needs to be strategized and scientific facts must be simply conveyed. Strategies for vaccine messages targeted at rural and remote areas also need to carefully consider the cultural relevance of these messages.

Francyne Wase-Jacklick, Deputy Secretary of the Office of Health Planning, Policy Preparedness & Epidemiology in the Ministry of Health & Human Services in the Republic of the Marshall Islands, was one of the first recipients of the Covid-19 vaccine in her country.

Ms Wase-Jacklick highlighted the Marshall Island’s early containment of COVID-19 and the country’s successful vaccine rollout through clear, targeted messaging. “Through our very strict repatriation protocol, we have been able to keep the Covid transmission from the community.

“We’ve also been able to achieve a great acceptance rate of the vaccine here in RMI… at first there were uncertainties but through continuous risk communications and information going out to the public – press releases and text messages – and using every outlet that we have to share information,” the vaccination drive has been a success.

However, Wase-Jacklick pointed out that this requires many people to play their part in sharing information and combatting misinformation. “I think it has a lot to do with leadership not just from the government, but also from community leaders, as well as the frontline workers.

“My hope is that RMI can be an example, of sharing what works… we can be a model of our public health interventions and we can share with others. Maybe [other Pacific Island countries] can adapt what we do here,” Wase-Jacklick added.

The Vosa podcast celebrates Pacific and Papua New Guinean voices and discusses the future of the Pacific region. This series is hosted by Fijian-born Arieta Rika and produced by Good Will Media with the support of the World Bank in Papua New Guinea and the Pacific. This episode was conducted in partnership with Contain This - a podcast produced for the Australian Government's Indo-Pacific Centre for Health Security that covers the future of global health.

© Scoop Media

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