•Citizens traveling back to the county had to self-isolate for up to 14 days. On the flip side, the health care system improved to handle Covid-19 related emergencies.
•Governments started investing heavily in promoting public awareness of COVID-19 by crafting messages on ways to curb the spread of the virus.
The present-day generation will remember 2020 as the year when the world was brought to its knees by the novel Coronavirus. It resulted in the cancellation of international flights, and complete or partial lockdown of some towns and cities.
Citizens traveling back to the county had to self-isolate for up to 14 days. On the flip side, the health care system improved to handle Covid-19 related emergencies.Governments started investing heavily in promoting public awareness of COVID-19 by crafting messages on ways to curb the spread of the virus.
With the liberalization of the internet in many countries, citizens shared information about COVID-19 on diverse platforms. Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp are the main avenues for sharing information about COVID-19.With all the information flow in Kenya, misinformation challenged the ministry of health to fight the spread of the virus.
With little or no control of the information shared on different social media platforms, false information found ways into many homes. It made it difficult to re-integrate the recovered patients back to the community leading to a COVID-19 related stigma and discrimination.Adherence to protective health messages has proved to be very effective in slowing down the spread of the virus. Hence, there has been an effort at both local and global levels to fight misinformation about COVID-19.
The UNDP and WHO are working hard to tame this vice as the world has witnessed manyCOVID-19 related falsehoods.Despite all these investments, a sizeable proportion of citizens do not know how the virus spread. ManyKenyans still believe that they cannot contract the virus since African bodies are resistant to the virus.Similarly, others believe that since Kenya experiences warm to hot climatic conditions, the Coronavirus cannot survive.
Twaweza East Africa carried out a national-wide survey to assess the level of awareness amongstKenyans. The survey carried out in August 2020 sampled 3,000 respondents across the country.Respondents answered a battery of questions to gauge their awareness level. The questions included knowledge about the origin of the virus, transmission, incubation period of the virus, among others.On basic facts about COVID-19, the results indicate that most citizens have the information.
Over 80% ofKenyans know that infected persons may not show symptoms for 5 to 14 days. About 90% are aware that washing hands with soap and running water helps prevent spreading the virus. Similarly, 94.1%believe that the spread of Coronavirus started in China, 96% already know that the virus can spread when an infected person touches someone’s hand or face, sneezes, or coughs near them. Even on these simple facts around COVID-19, misinformation, and lack of awareness ranges between 17%, 8%, 6%, and5% among the four simple facts, respectively.
The results indicate that misinformation on knowledge aspects related to the spread of COVID-19 is rife.For instance, almost four out of ten believe: asymptomatic patients cannot spread the virus (38.6%);recovered patients should not be reintegrated back to the community (38.4%); Coronavirus is a germ weapon (36.5%) and living in warm to hot climate has an advantage against contracting the virus(30.2%).Asymptomatic patients exhibit no symptoms but are considered to be super-spreaders of the virus.
The results indicate that 51.8% of Kenyans already know that asymptomatic patients can spread the virus.The remaining half either believe false information that asymptomatic patients cannot transmit the virus(38.6%) or are not sure (9.6%). Notably, most asymptomatic patients are not conscious of the risk they are putting to the vulnerable groups because they believe that they are not risking their lives.During the peak of this pandemic, positively tested patients rarely communicated their status because of the fear of being stigmatized.
The results show that about half of Kenyans (53.3%) believes that recovered patients should be reintegrated into the community. Four out of ten (38.4%) think that are covered patient should be avoided while 8.4% do not know what to do with a recovered patient. On whether citizens believed that Coronavirus is a germ weapon, 36.5% believe it is, 32.1% are not sure, almost a third (31.4%) believe it, not a germ weapon, which is the correct information.Living within the tropics is believed to have some immunity against the spread of the virus. The findings indicate that 30.2% believe that living in the tropics has an advantage against contracting the virus; 16%do not know.
About 53.8% of Kenyans believe that living in the tropics has no advantage against not contracting the virus.As Africans, we are much inclined towards taking traditional concoctions to help fight different diseases.Madagascar was one of the countries that promoted the use of herbal concoctions to fight COVI9-19.Unfortunately, there is no scientific evidence in support of this hypothesis. The findings indicate that 25.4% believe that ginger, lemon, honey, and other herbal drink cures COVID-19.
About 27.3% are not sure, while 47.3% do not believe it.While there were relentless efforts by the Government, NGOs, and even citizens to share the information, the fight against misinformation is still alive. Although the internet has allowed for sharing information, there should be more deliberate effort to curb the spread of false information. Everyone needs to verify the information we have before sharing it on our devices.
James Ciera is a Senior Data Analyst and Kenya Country Lead, and Sarah Mwangi, Assistant Program Officer, Twaweza East Africa