Information about COVID-19 is everywhere and continues to grow as the pandemic spreads. Conspiracy theories about the origin/purpose of coronavirus, recipes and mixtures for miracle cures, pseudo-religious advice and postulations and mindboggling figures about the spread of the virus are flying everywhere in online spaces. These are provoking fear, panic and exposing Africans to fake news that may aid heightened onslaught of the virus. The UN Secretary-General António Guterres had posited that the danger now is no more just the virus which is the ‘common enemy but the growing surge of misinformation’ thus ‘we need to urgently promote facts and science, hope and solidarity over despair and division’.
Misinformation thrives more where there is illiteracy, especially the inability to understand and evaluate information itself as well as the source(s). Africa is lagging behind in world’s averages on literacy levels. This makes the continent a fertile ground for misinformation about COVID-19. Most importantly, this pandemic has the capacity to overwhelm the below average healthcare facilities of most countries in the continent considering the disease burdens they already carry. Lack of bed spaces in hospitals and isolation centres, inadequate ventilators, limited testing capacities and insufficient number of medical personnel are the realities in most African countries as COVID-19 continues to spread in the continent with an expected peak in late to mid-April, 2020.
Misinformation about COVID-19 is engendering false hopes and generating fear, promoting quackery as well as undermining scientifically proven pathways that curb the spread of the virus such as social distancing, staying at home, proper handwashing and use of hand sanitizers. This endangers lives, and allows the pandemic to spread more and more. Ordinarily, managing information effectively for routine situations is critical. During periods of crisis, how information is handled is most crucial and could make all the difference between positive outcomes and exacerbated scenarios! WHO Regional Office for Africa is actively helping the continent through trainings, guidelines on how to deal with the pandemic, donation of test kits and helping to counter disinformation and is guiding countries on setting up call centres to ensure the public is informed.
It is therefore understandable why drastic responses are needed from all sectors to contain the spread of the pandemic in Africa. AfLIA believes that as managers of information, African librarians cannot afford to stay on the side lines and act unconcerned. Information literacy is the turf of librarians all over the world. AfLIA adjudges that this is the time for librarians to carve a space for themselves in the forefront against the continued march of the virus, by disseminating correct, reliable, relevant information that will make Africans concerned without instigating panic and bursting myths and disinformation that can help the pandemic wax strong in the continent.
Librarians need to re-educate themselves on the virus, preventative measures and pass on the information in as many spaces as possible. Physical gatherings are no longer viable. Use of social media platforms and messaging apps are veritable platforms for dissemination of information. This can be pictorially repackaged in local languages to make it more attractive and impactful using Canva and Vennage, among others. Also share your repackaged information on AfLIA’s Facebook page and tag on Twitter @AfLIACon using the hashtag #COVID19FactCheck. AfLIA had produced this resource titled, “Corona Virus (COVID-19) Awareness: What can African Librarians do?” to help librarians understand what the virus is, how it spreads and how it can be contained through hygienic practices. Access resource in English | French | Portuguese.
Follow the Centre for Disease Control in your country on their social media handles and subscribe to their daily, weekly or monthly newsletters, where available, so that as a librarian, you will have access to current, true and relevant information about the pandemic in your country which you can confidently repackage, share and broadcast to your relatives, friends and user communities through emails and other avenues. For example:
|Cameroon – Ministère de la Santé Publique du Cameroun||https://www.minsante.cm||Ministère de la Santé Publique du Cameroun||@MinsanteC|
|Cote D’Ivoire –||http://www.gouv.ci/||Ministère de la Santé et de l’Hygiène Publique||@Gouvci|
|Congo DRC||https://www.minisanterdc.cd/||Ministère de la Santé RDC|
|Ethiopia – Ministry of Health||http://www.moh.gov.et/ejcc/||Ministry of Health, Ethiopia||@FMoHealth|
|Gambia – MOH||http://www.moh.gov.gm/||Ministry of Health The Gambia||@MohGambia|
|Ghana – DSD||https://ghanahealthservice.org/covid19/||Disease Surveillance Dept_GHS||@DSD_GHS|
|Kenya – Ministry of Helath||http://www.health.go.ke/covid-19/||The Ministry of Health||@MOH_Kenya|
|Namibia- MHSS||http://www.mhss.gov.na/||Ministry of Health and Social Services-Namibia||–|
|Nigeria – NCDC||https://ncdc.gov.ng/||Nigeria Centre for Disease Control||@NCDC|
|Sierra Leone – MOH SL||http://health.gov.sl/||Ministry of Health and Sanitation, Sierra Leone||@mohs_sl|
|South Africa – NICD||https://www.nicd.ac.za||National Institute for Communicable Diseases||@nicd_sa|
|Uganda -UVRI||http://uvri.go.ug/||Uganda Virus Research Institute||@UVRIug|
|Zambia – Ministry of Health||https://www.moh.gov.zm/||Ministry of Health Zambia||@mohzambia|
|Zimbabwe – Ministry of Health and Child Care
|http://www.mohcc.gov.zw/||Ministry of Health and Child Care||@MoHCCZim|
AfLIA also encourages librarians to follow and engage with information from regional institutions that collate reliable information on the pandemic. For example:
Africa CDC – a technical institution of the African Union for strengthening the capacity of Member States to respond effectively to diseases – @AfricaCDC, Africa CDC, http://www.africacdc.org/. This organization has compiled emergency phone numbers for the pandemic in 55 African countries COVID-19 Emergency Numbers (English) | COVID-19 Numéros d’Urgence (French).
Stop the flow of misinformation by not immediately forwarding or sharing any news or information received on the COVID-19 pandemic. Apply these steps. Post a fact check text or message on platforms about the misinformation and tag AfLIA using the hashtag #COVID19FactCheck who will make your post get to more people. Burst as many myths and misinformation as you find with the correct information. This will certainly save lives. Here are some false stories that have flying around about use of Dettol, shaving of beard
As information professionals we can take the cue from what is already happening in the fight against coronavirus misinformation. Here are some examples to check out: Coronavirus, what misinformation has spread in Africa | Coronavirus overload: five ways to fight misinformation and fear | Here’s how to fight Coronavirus misinformation
Main Takeaway – AFRICAN LIBRARIANS CANNOT BE ON THE SIDELINES! JOIN IN THE FIGHT AGAINST MISINFORMATION ABOUT THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC
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