“The Pandemic” of Pandemic- The Spread of Misinformation!


While the whole world remains shaken and waken by the COVID-19 pandemic, a plethora of healthcare, political and socio-economic issues are cropping up on the sidelines of the core crisis. In a highly diverse democracy like India where people are driven by emotions and remain far away from objectivity, such issues grow manifold and turn obnoxious at times.

The COVID-19 pandemic is germinating another Pandemic that is perhaps more dangerous than the Coronavirus itself. "Pandemic of the Misinformation' that spreads through multiple vehicles beyond human contact i.e. through phones, internet, etc. Seldom people have the habit of checking and validating the source & reference to the information and often it is taken on the face value. The most popular "Whatsapp" & "Facebook" universities are among those common vehicles for example who offers expert advice right from how does the coronavirus spread, how to prevent from falling prey to it, and many grey areas around it with no credible reference on most of the occasions.

With reference to the high-risk groups like cancer patients, they are estimated to be vulnerable to COVID-19 infection due to their immuno-compromised state caused by cancer itself as well as the aggressive nature of cancer treatment. Likewise, their minds are also highly susceptible to the misinformation/myths/rumors, because of the prevailing fear in their minds, of their pre-existing disease that makes the way out for the critical entities like source credibility, logic, and rationale. Though we can not stop the forwards carrying misinformation on the internet, we can always resort to fact-checking from the learned who knows the subject well or has vast experience and knowledge to issue right advice. Sometimes, it may appear to be genuine piece of information prima facie, yet needs an approval from the right source.

Some of the classical stories of misinformation that we have come across are summarized as follows:
  • - Taking cancer treatment during a pandemic can be fatal
  • - Temporary discontinuation of cancer treatment during a pandemic can have serious repercussions
  • - Increased risk of cancer progression during a pandemic
  • - Alternative treatments that prevent progression during the lockdown
  • - Increased risk of coronavirus infection to cancer patients
  • - Increased risk to their caretakers due to close contact with infected patients etc.

All these queries has a context of individuality and can not be generalized to all cancer patients while offering solutions. There are various patient factors that need to be evaluated before assuming the risks. Otherwise, the misinformation only significantly adds to the mental burden of cancer patients and their relatives, thereby affecting their mental and general health.

Other than the medical queries, there are many other general queries that patients come up with and the reference to all of these is a Whatsapp or a Facebook forward that entered their chat window.
  • - Shortage of cancer medicines in the market as a result of lockdown
  • - Non-availability of cancer emergency medicines in the market during the lockdown
  • - The increased cost of cancer treatments during a pandemic
  • - Misinformation on corona infection to treating doctor himself
  • - Misinformation on the hospital being sealed due to corona cases, which happens to be the place where patient is scheduled to take treatment

We have recently heard about the death of a cancer-treating physician in Mumbai due to coronavirus and subsequent sealing of the hospital by the authorities. it was later found out to be a rumor The information turns misinformation with our failure to reference check. I advise all cancer patients to follow the only genuine guide and a friend during COVID-19 pandemic i.e. their cancer-treating physician. You can deny and debunk the fallacies around, by being in touch with your cancer physician and only following his advice and instructions.

We advise our patients not to mind if they can't reach us due to lockdown restrictions. Use our digital consultation initiative, "Doctor on Screen" to find solutions to your queries and pave the way for "Peace of Mind".

Dr. Kshitij Joshi

Consultant Medical Oncologist

Mumbai Oncocare Centre, Vile Parle

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