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, uptake of measures designed to slow and mitigate the spread of the disease,’’ said Eric Hazard, Save the Children’s Pan-African Campaign and Policy Director .
Hazard added that it could spread faster, moving silently and hidden in communities.
Almost 42 per cent of 3,000 people surveyed in Somalia said they believed COVID-19 was generated by the government while 27 per cent felt it was fuelling hostility against specific minority groups.
An assessment of 121 people in Tanzania revealed that almost 86 per cent 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 per cent had an accurate understanding of how COVID-19 is contracted, 69 per cent wrongly believed that brushing teeth prevented the disease.
Meanwhile, an additional 43 per cent 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,’’ Hazard said.
He said that children whose relatives contracted and recovered from COVID-19 and those from minority groups were more vulnerable to stigma and discrimination.