Fake news, conspiracy theories and COVID-19

The corona viruses

COVID-19, a disease that initially only affected China, has become a global pandemic, especially in the past two months. 

Many Africans considered COVID-19 as a disease that will not affect ‘us’. This mentality has led to a ‘business as usual’ approach and precautionary measures were only implemented about two months ago.  

Until recently, most African countries had only a few dozen confirmed COVID-19 cases. Compared to other regions, deaths have been quite low too. The exponential increase in new infections and even deaths have finally pushed African governments to at least do something and put in place measures to break the transmission chain. The question remains, however, – will these interventions be too late?  Will they be enough? According to the World Health Organization, Africa is the likely next epicenter of COVID-19.

The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa report of April 2020 titled: COVID-19 in Africa: Protecting Lives and Economies warns that between 300,000 and 3. 3 million Africans could die as a direct result of  COVID-19, depending on the intervention measures taken to stop the spread. 

It further highlights that the continent is more vulnerable because 56 percent of the urban population is concentrated in overcrowded and poorly serviced slum dwellings (excluding North Africa) and only 34 percent of the households have access to basic hand washing facilities.

“Of all the continents, Africa has the highest prevalence of certain underlying conditions, like tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS. 

"With lower ratios of hospital beds and health professionals to its population than other regions, high dependency on imports for its medicinal and pharmaceutical products, weak legal identity systems for direct benefit transfers, and weak economies that are unable to sustain health and lockdown costs, the continent is vulnerable,” reads the report in part.

Sparing the other details from the report (for upcoming entries) of how fragile Africa is, this alone gives a clear picture of where Africa, including Malawi stands on COVID-19 effects.

At risk as we are, the continent seems to be full of people that are easily swayed by fake news. There has been an influx of myth and fake news relating to COVID-19 spreading throughout the continent.  For instance, listening and going through social media platforms, there has been gossip that says this disease is only for rich people and not poor Africans. Some have even claimed the virus cannot survive the African climate. 

Closer to home, here in Malawi, the most pathetic thing is that people have chosen to believe that the disease exists in other countries but not in Malawi! And because many have chosen to believe in this lunacy, very few are taking precautionary measures to protect themselves and their loved ones from contracting or spreading the virus.

Honestly, it’s everyone’s wish that the COVID-19 pandemic does not hit us as strongly as it has hit other places considering our country’s collapsing health and economic systems. If the disease does spread like wildfire in Malawi (God forbid!) and if the UN projections come true, I’m scared to imagine what Malawi would look like once we come to the end of this.  

But not all is lost after all. It’s not too late to work towards breaking the cycle of transmission. Physical distancing has worked in every other place where it’s been employed. As painful as it would be for ordinary Malawians – those who earn a daily wage, those in small spaces with several relatives, those who till the land daily to get food for their families – we must try to make this work somehow. We Malawians always find a way. We must find a safe way to make this work too.

Kudos to most public places such as hospitals, shops, office premises among others that have adopted safety measures by having hand washing facilities and hand sanitisers at entry and exit of their premises  to prevent COVID-19.

Let’s give the disease all the attention it deserves, let’s face reality and take seriously our responsibility to practice prevention measures.