Aissata Boucoum is a young activist from Mali. She tells how she lived through the social isolation of a friend whose uncle passed away a few weeks ago, shortly after returning from a trip. Soon, his mobile began to fill with calls and messages about the sudden death of his relative. Overnight the news spread in her surroundings that the cause had been covid-19 and automatically she became a kind of plagued. All based on the suspicion that the man had died of coronavirus and she was infected.

This is just one example of how hoaxes and hoaxes permeate a population frightened by a threat rarely seen as a pandemic. It is collected in a study that Save The Children has released this Monday from thousands of interviews across the African continent. The document confirms that disinformation or, directly, the lack of data encourages the dissemination of false information and stigma.

At the beginning of the health crisis, controversial Nairobi Governor Mike Kondo posted a video that went viral about Bill Gates talking about emerging diseases. According to the politician, who went so far as to distribute gin to his citizens assuring that it was beneficial to avoid the disease, the philanthropist already knew in 2015 that the coronavirus would arrive. The truth is that Gates only echoed the research that hundreds of scientists had been doing for years on the transmission of pathogens between animals and humans. Something that has already happened with SARS or HIV.

The case shows the important role of local public figures in spreading false or misleading information in different parts of the world, according to the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRLab), which studies the phenomenon of disinformation on a global level. “In general, this type of information travels through niche communities when a prominent celebrity, or even a source from a conventional media outlet, amplifies them,” Zarine Kharazian of DFRLab told ..

A part of the millions of users who shared the video preferred to opt for theories like Bill Gates wants to control humanity with implanted microchips or digital tattoos. They also commented that the philanthropist already patented a treatment years ago and later it was he who released the coronavirus. “A common feature of conspiracy theories that cross borders, languages ​​and cultures is mistrust of almighty elites and institutions,” adds Kharazian.

In Nigeria, former Aviation Minister Femi Fani-Kayode, who has a large following among Christians in the south of the country, shared a multitude of publications claiming that Bill Gates is part of a secret powerful elite that wants to dominate the world through the coronavirus. and 5G technology.

From above

In effect, the problem that the hoaxes come “from above”, is that it gives them a bit more truthfulness than if it were done by any citizen. Madagascar President Andry Rajoelina announced on March 26, exactly 15 days after the WHO’s declaration of a pandemic, the discovery of a treatment for the coronavirus. Finally, on April 19, a record time for the development of any drug and much more if it includes its manufacture and distribution, the now famous Covidorganics, an herbal infusion, was launched.

Rajoelina has been in charge of exporting it to all of Africa with a great media following every time he arrived in a new country as a sign of the vigorous Malagasy science. He has also defended his concoction against an alleged denigration of traditional African medicine. “If instead of Madagascar it had been a European country that had discovered this remedy, would there be so many doubts? I don’t think so,” he said a few weeks ago in France 24. If it were just an infusion, the matter would not have been more important, the The problem is that the concoction contains artemisinin, a very widespread compound in antimalarial drugs. If artemisinin begins to be consumed uncontrollably and on a large scale, antimalarials may lose efficacy because the parasite generates resistance.

Tanzania has also been shaken by false remedies, this time in the form of steam cabins. And once again, they have also been urged by its president, John Magufuli, who went on to assure that one of his sons had been cured of covid-19 after inhaling steam with lemons and ginger. Now, citizens pay to use these facilities in the middle of the street. In Tanzania there are officially 509 positives and 21 fatalities, but the Government has not provided new data since the end of April.

One of the cabins installed in the middle of the street in the capital of Tanzania. .

More than 3,000 interviews of those carried out for the Save The Children report correspond to Somalia, where three quarters admit that they know little about covid-19. 42% believe it is a government campaign. Something similar has been detected in Zambia, where 69% consider that brushing their teeth daily is sufficient to prevent infections and 43% believe that drinking alcohol has healing properties.

On the opposite side are those who try to provide reliable information from the field. One of the most effective tools is the radio. Across the continent, 54% of young Africans use radio as their primary source of news, and 81% consider local media more reliable than international media, according to a pan-African survey conducted by the Ichikowitz Family Foundation, with based in South Africa.

“Radio has the power to change the attitude and behavior of communities,” says Maikem Emmanuela Kimah, 32, a Cameroonian radio presenter in a phone call with .. “People make up new myths about the coronavirus every day, like that spicy food or garlic can kill the virus, or that it’s not even real,” he says. Ndapewoshali Shapwanale is a broadcaster in Namibia: “When the pandemic was declared, we focused on how to keep our listeners safe. People initially believed that 5G had caused the coronavirus, or that it was man-made, or that the Chinese were intentionally bringing the virus to our country. ” She was clear: “We wanted to quickly show what the contrasted facts were.”

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