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Nigeria’s continuous battle with coronavirus misinformation

LAGOS, NIGERIA- As the coronavirus pandemic evolves, Nigeria continues to battle misinformation, disinformation and inadequate access to accurate information.

Since the first reported case of COVID-19 in February 2020, there has been continuous dissemination of inaccurate information across multimedia platforms and limited access to health and safety information and resources in poorer communities.

“There are still a lot of people in this country that still don’t believe that there is COVID-19,” said Dr. Omo Obaseki, a medical doctor in Abuja. “But I think everybody is better enlightened.”

As the pandemic progressed through last year, false claims about the mode of coronavirus transmission, fake antidotes and conspiracy theories swamped WhatsApp groups and false information was rapidly spread across the country.

“Some people say we are in the tropics [and] ... heat is able to destroy the virus,” said Maj. Gen. Dr. Shina Ogunbiyi, the medical director of the Lagos COVID-19 treatment center.

“People thought it was lime, ginger and garlic that would cure COVID-19,” said Dr. Amarachi Onuoha, a medical doctor in Lagos.

As the pandemic evolves and the country races to reach herd immunity with the vaccines received in March, disinformation continues to spread across the internet and in religious communities.

People who doubt the vaccine make bogus claims about its efficacy and suggest that it is “anti-christ” and are convinced that the vaccine developers want to use the vaccines to alter our genes, according to Onuoha.

The country also struggles with educating lower income populations that have limited access to reliable communication channels. Such communities have little to no information on the virus and ways to protect themselves from it.

“We can't always use the latest mediums to send out information,'' Onuoha said. “Not all communities have access to internet, radio [and] WhatsApp groups to spread information.”

In light of the complexities with transmitting information about the public health crisis, the government and other organizations have worked to provide accurate information to marginalized communities across Lagos state.

There is a “social mobilization pillar” in the emergency operation committee for COVID-19 response that reaches out to various grassroots and collaborates with the National Union of Road Transport Workers to regularly educate them on COVID-19, according to Ogunbiyi.

A lot of nongovernmental organizations have already taken it upon themselves to reach out to communities with limited access to the internet and electricity, according to Obaseki.

Health care professionals proffer solutions that will address the unique socio-economic challenges in the country that affect the circulation of public health information across all forms of mass communication channels.

“I think we have to target various groups based on what we think is the fastest way to reach them,” Onuoha said.

She suggests that outreach programs done in indigenous communities should be translated from English to local languages and they should mobilize the youth to communicate information on the pandemic to members of their local communities.

To ensure we reach more people with accurate information, educating pastors and religious leaders is of utmost importance for a “holistic” transmission of information.

“There are people who go to church and really only believe what their pastor says,” Onuoha said. “We can educate the pastors properly and tell them that science and Christianity are not at loggerheads with each other.”

“There has to be … continued advocacy at all levels … and media engagement with relevant grassroots populace,” Ogunbiyi said.



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