INTERNATIONAL — The World Health Organization on Thursday announced a first-of-its-kind partnership with the Wikimedia Foundation, the nonprofit organization that runs Wikipedia, in an effort to provide the public with free information about COVID from trusted public health officers.
As part of the collaboration, WHO will provide Wikipedia with free access to all of its COVID data, infographics, published videos, and more. The general public will be able to access the WHO information on Wikimedia Commons, a free digital library of multimedia assets.
“Equitable access to trusted health information is critical to keeping people safe and informed during the COVID-19 pandemic," said WHO Director General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in a statement. "Our new collaboration with the Wikimedia Foundation will increase access to reliable health information from WHO across multiple countries, languages, and devices."
With the new freely-licensed information, Wikipedia’s 250,000-plus volunteer editors will be able to expand the site’s overall coronavirus coverage. The information will be available in over 175 languages on Wikipedia, an exponential expansion from the WHO, which typically publishes information in only six languages.
While the partnership is still in its infancy, officials hope to one day expand coverage to include live updates to Wikipedia sites on COVID case and death tallies as soon as they are published by the WHO.
One of the more immediate resources available through the partnership are the WHO’s “Mythbusting” series of infographics, which aim to address “common misconceptions about COVID-19.”
Some of the debunked myths now available in graphic form on the Wikimedia Commons include: COVID is transmitted through houseflies, eating garlic does prevent coronavirus, and people should always wear masks while exercising, among others.
The new partnership comes as cases of COVID surge worldwide.
Spain this week became the first country in western Europe to record more than 1 million confirmed infections; Germany’s disease control center said Friday that 11,242 new cases were reported over the last 24-hour period, just shy of the record 11,278 mark set the day before; and the United States on Thursday reached near-record highs of new daily COVID cases since July with around 71,600 new infections.
Worldwide, the virus has infected more than 41 million people and killed more than 1.1 million, according to a count by Johns Hopkins University. The true numbers are far higher due to gaps in testing and reporting cases.
Since the beginning of the COVID outbreak, both Wikipedia and the WHO have taken steps to curb an accompanying “infodemic,” which the WHO describes as “an overabundance of information and the rapid spread of misleading or fabricated news, images, and videos.”
In August, Tim Nguyen of the Information Network for Epidemics (EPI-WIN) — which guides the WHO’s work on responding to the so-called “infodemic” — delineated some of the steps the organizations had previously implemented to curb misleading information about COVID.
Earlier this year, WHO partnered with over 50 social media and tech companies including TikTok, Google, Viber, WhatsApp, and YouTube to ensure the platforms’ users first see science-based, official health bulletins when they search for coronavirus information. Even the dating app Tinder features WHO-sponsored COVID reminders because, as the WHO states, “social distancing is still appropriate during a date.”
Wikipedia has also taken additional steps on its own to ensure its COVID articles are as accurate and up-to-date as possible. The site’s collection of some 35,000-plus articles on the subject are part of WikiProject Medicine, which means they are closely monitored by a group of over 100 health experts to watch for any changes that may be misleading.
Misinformation can have severe real-world impacts — for example, WHO cited rumors about food scarcity in the early days of the pandemic that, while untrue, prompted many people to stockpile resources, leading to an actual shortage. When reports surfaced touting hydroxychloroquine as a possible, albeit untested, treatment for COVID in the United States, at least one person passed away after ingesting a fish tank cleaning product containing chloroquine.
The WHO and Wikipedia hope their partnership will prevent such tragedies from happening again.
“Access to information is essential to healthy communities and should be treated as such,” said Katherine Maher, CEO at the Wikimedia Foundation, in a statement. “This becomes even more clear in times of global health crises when information can have life-changing consequences. All institutions, from governments to international health agencies, scientific bodies to Wikipedia, must do our part to ensure everyone has equitable and trusted access to knowledge about public health, regardless of where you live or the language you speak.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.