The COVID-19 Rumor Management Response in Ministry of Health Offices: A Qualitative Study Open Access

Moharam Ali, Shakila (Summer 2022)

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Background: COVID-19 challenged the world by bringing both a pandemic and an infodemic. Ministry of Health offices were faced with rising cases, limited resources, and the excess sharing and spread of misinformation in their localized communities, both digitally across social media and through in-person conversations. The public health emergency brought attention to the needs of Ministry of Health offices in their risk communication and rumor management capacity. This qualitative research study assessed the rumor management efforts of Ministry of Health offices in low- and middle-income countries. The project aimed to provide the country offices with a fact sheet summarizing the findings and recommendations for improving their emergency response in rumor management.


Methods: Data for this study were collected in collaboration with the Emergency Response Capacity Team at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The data consisted of four in-depth qualitative interviews on Zoom (n=4). All interviews were de-identified and transcribed on Microsoft Word, then coded and analyzed on MAXQDA.


Results: Country officials reported localized rumors that varied in topic and severity. This was followed by reports of varying active and passive methods of tracking and addressing rumors. The interviewees emphasized the need for a “formal system” for rumor management, such as a designated team, software, and approach for the issue. Often due to their limitations in resources and guidance, the country offices also reported the need for collaboration from larger platforms, organizations, and governments during this time.


Discussion: Rumor management and risk communication are crucial components of public health. During a crisis or emergency, the spread of misinformation related to a disease, vaccine, or public health guidelines can impair decision making, and in severe cases – cause harm to lives. Providing guidance and feasible strategies to Ministry of Health offices can reduce the burden on them during this time and contribute to their outcomes which in return, protects their communities.

Table of Contents


Section A: Rumors and Misinformation 1

Section B: Misinformation and the Start of an Infodemic 2

Section C: Infodemics and Outbreaks of Disease 3

Section D: COVID-19, A Pandemic and Infodemic 4

Section E: MOH Offices and COVID-19 Rumor Management 7

Section F: Effective Rumor Management Guidance for MOH Offices 8

Section G: Significance, Need & Goal 9


Section A: Qualitative Data Methods 11

Overall Approach: 11

Study Participants: 11

Consent: 12

Data Collection: 12

Transcription: 13

Section B: Coding and Data Analysis 15

Overall Approach: 15

Initial Coding: 15

Codebook Adjustments: 17

MAXQDA, Secondary Coding: 20

Data Analysis: 21

Section C: Fact Sheet 22

Overall Approach: 22

Software: 22

Style: 22

Readability: 24

Content: 25

Organization: 25


Section A: Findings 27

Overall Approach: 27

Main Results: 27

Rumor Examples: 28

Tracking Rumors: 29

Addressing Rumors: 32

Formal System: 35

Collaboration: 37

Section B: Fact Sheet 38

Overall Approach: 38

Pages: 39


Section A: Discussion 42

Section B: Strengths 43

Section C: Limitations 44

Section D: Implications 45


Appendix 1: Question Guide 52

Appendix 2: Methods Tables 56

Appendix 3: Results Tables 60

Appendix 4: Fact Sheet Pages 67

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