Africa’s anti-COVID-19 war hampered by misinformation, stigma


The war against COVID-19 in Africa is being derailed by widespread misinformation and stigma targeting victims and their families, Save the Children, an international charity said on Monday.

Assessments carried out by Save the Children in several African countries in April have revealed rampant myths and misinformation regarding the viral respiratory disease, which placed bottlenecks towards its containment in the continent.

“Misinformation and myths about COVID-19 could delay the introduction and uptake of measures designed to slow and mitigate the spread of the disease, which could see it spread faster, moving silently and hidden in communities,” said Eric Hazard, Save the Children’s Pan-African Campaign and Policy Director.

The assessments that were conducted in Somalia, Zambia and Tanzania indicated widespread prejudice against people infected by coronavirus alongside frontline healthcare workers and diaspora communities.

Nearly 42 percent of 3,000 people surveyed in Somalia said they believed COVID-19 was generated by the government while 27 percent felt it was fuelling hostility against specific minority groups.

An assessment of 121 people in Tanzania revealed that nearly 86 percent of them were of the view that the disease generated stigma against particular ethnic or racial groups.

The rapid survey on 400 people in Zambia found that while 57 percent had an accurate understanding of how COVID-19 is contracted, 69 percent wrongly believed that brushing teeth prevented the disease while an additional 43 percent were of the view that drinking alcohol could keep the virus at bay.

“When communities receive the wrong information about an illness, it creates fear, in this case of others, and fear can lead to stigma, isolation, poorer health outcomes on individual and societal levels, and in some cases, violence,” said Hazard.

He said that children whose relatives contracted and recovered from COVID-19 and those from minority groups were more vulnerable to stigma and discrimination.

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