'Fake news undermining Malawi’s COVID-19 response'

Covid fake news

A study conducted by researchers has revealed that much as there is useful information on social media platforms,  there is also lot more misinformation and it's undermining Malawi’s COVID-19 response.

It was conducted by research teams from the Leadership for Environment and Development (LEAD), Universities of Malawi and Leicester and Ministry of Health.

The misinformation covers areas of the origins of the pandemic, symptoms, treatment and vaccines is mostly on media platforms such a Twitter and Whatsapp giving users liberty to produce a message and swiftly propagate it into various social worldwide networks.

LEAD Southern and Eastern Africa Regional Director Professor Sosten Chiotha explained that in terms of treatment, there are drugs people claim can cure COVID-19 from the pharmacies but scientists have disproved them and discouraged their use.

He also spoke of herbal concoctions which when critically analysed their data is misleading as there are inaccuracies in them.

Chiotha: To claim that once you’ve eaten it for one day then the following day you’ll be off the ventilator,  is misleading people

“There is also nutrition claims that if you eat this food it’s going to cure you and move you away from the ventilator, but when you look at the information for example, one of them talks that avocado has PH 15.6 but we know that the PH scale doesn’t go beyond 14. There’s another one that talks of PH of 26 and PH doesn’t go that far.

“But to claim that once you’ve eaten it for one day then the following day you’ll be off the ventilator, I think we are misleading people. And there are faith based trends; that’s why we have invited the faith based institutions and experts so that they are able to unravel that kind of information that’s going out,” he said.

Chiotha indicated the first phase of the research was to prove misinformation exists followed by the consultative workshop to co-create solutions.

According to him, one of them is on the need for a rapid response expert group to counter any misinformation that comes so that it can be analyzed and provide the scientific information to debunk it.

He acknowledged that science is slow in responding to questions people have as it needs research before coming with conclusive answers.

Ministers of Health and Information captured during the meeting. Pics by Tione Andsen MANA

“There’s a certain protocol that scientific research takes and people must be patient when scientists say give us time to find the evidence to answer the question; they must actually trust it.”

Minister of Health Khumbize Chiponda cited people’s non-adherence to preventive measures, aggressive behavior towards health workers and refusal to take vaccines as factors which undermined government’s efforts in the COVID-19 fight.

 “We have another pandemic we call it infodemics; where people are creating stories which has really affected our efforts in the fight against COVID-19 but is also undermining our efforts especially in the uptake of the vaccine.

“We still have Malawians who really believe that the vaccines are not good for them and unfortunately lives are being lost on a daily basis because of issues of misinformation and disinformation and these are very serious issues.”

Kazako: Bemoaned the act of information manipulation 

Information Minister Gospel Kazako feared if this trend is tolerated, Malawi can turn into a nation of lies with so many people creating fake news.

He hailed the workshop which he noted comes at a critical moment when misinformation is at its peak leading to certain efforts being frustrated by those who are so addicted to the production of fake news.

 “These manipulators of information they have actually found a very fertile ground in that area and they’re going there injecting fake news, misinformation and unknowingly people are actually consuming that and think that is true yet it is not true.

“So we are having to hear from the experts, scientists those that have done research so that now as we move forward, we should be able to see what interventions that we can put across to make sure that misinformation is not flourishing and gaining bigger ground,” explained Kazako.