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Fighting the pandemic and the infodemic: A year of COVID-19 Misinformation in Ghana

5 mins read Welcome to the second edition of Dubawa Ghana’s bi-weekly newsletter that takes a closer look at the significance or elements of truth and falsehood in today’s news stories. For our second edition, take a dive into Dubawa’s contribution to the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic a year after the first recorded cases in Ghana.

5 mins read

Exactly a year has gone by since the World Health Organisation (WHO) announced on 11 March 2020 that the COVID-19 outbreak had officially become a global pandemic. Unfortunately, Ghanaians had very little time to process this information and its implications on their way of life, as the next day, 12 March 2020, the country recorded her first two COVID-19 cases

The anxiety, uncertainty and quest to unravel this mystery of a novel Coronavirus shifted the pandemic beyond a health crisis to an information crisis which the WHO describes as an infodemic. In view of this, the launch of Dubawa in Ghana on 25 February 2020 has been considered felicitous in its timely contribution to fighting the COVID-19 infodemic that besieged the world jointly with the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Ghana’s fight against the pandemic 

The WHO advised on a number of global COVID-19 transmission and protective measures, many of which the government of Ghana, through periodic updates by the President, instituted. Among the various interventions implemented to help combat the spread of COVID-19, the country went under a partial lockdown to reduce physical movements while fumigating markets centres and institutions. Also, while the government increased the COVID-19 testing capacity to facilitate the case count and identify all infected people for treatment, there were also restrictions on mass gatherings and physical contacts, such as hand-shakes, a compulsory wearing of masks in public places directive, and the washing and sanitizing of hands protocol. 

During this period, many scientific interventions were also being investigated as some Ghanaian institutions contributed in the capacities that they could. Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research and WACCBIP, for example, were among the frontline research centres studying the mutability of the virus in the Ghanaian context while a number of local manufacturers produced hand sanitizers and face masks, face shields and protective gowns to help mitigate the spread of the virus.

By the end of 2020, there was news of international vaccines that had passed approval from the WHO. Consequently, in February 2021, Ghana received the first consignment of vaccines from the COVAX facility, to facilitate the government’s nation-wide vaccination agenda which started on March 2, 2021 and is currently on-going.

Dubawa’s fight against the infodemic 

While governments, scientists and health workers were (and still are) diversely fighting the spread of the virus, fact-checkers have also since the outbreak of the pandemic waded in to fight the spread of misinformation and disinformation to control its effect on the public. By reviewing scientific research, consulting health experts, and using the (non) validation of the WHO and CDC on emerging topics, Dubawa investigated several COVID-19 related claims including conspiracy theories, purported preventive measures, purported cures, the virus’ transmissibility through temperature, second-hand clothing, public transport, sewage systems, and asymptomatic COVID-19 patients, the recovery status of COVID-19 patients,  political allegations on the former president and sitting president, and a host of COVID-19 vaccine misinformation – most of which were found to be falsehood stemming from people’s anxiety about the novelty of the virus, their uncertainty about cures, treatment and vaccines, or their sheer mischief to deceive others. 

Furthermore, collectively, Dubawa and the government of Ghana, cautioned on the dangers of COVID-19 misinformation, as Dubawa provided Ghanaians with verified COVID-19 information as well as basic tips on fact-checking via the Ministry of Information’s press briefing platform. This platform enabled Dubawa to reach a wider Ghanaian audience on both online media  and mainstream media including airing of findings on national television. 

Retrospectively, as Ghana joins the world to reflect on the eventfulness of the COVID-19 year from the onset of the pandemic till date, concerns are also growing on the emerging implications the present global vaccination agenda brings in relation to the introduction of a vaccine passport. This is a concern which not only anti-vaccine travellers would have to deal with but that fact-checkers too would need to contend with, as new misinformation on the subject occur.

Latest Fact-checks

False! Michael Essien did not lose 1 million followers over LGBTQI post 

In the heat of the many-sided LGBTQI+ discussions in Ghana, popular Ghanaian footballer, Michael Essien, showed his support for the LGBTQI+ community in Ghana in an Instagram post. Many websites, thereafter, claimed that Essien had lost over 1 million followers on Twitter following his show of solidarity on social media with groups demanding equal rights for the LGBTQI+ community in Ghana. However, Dubawa found this claim to be false. Click here for the full fact-check

Fact-checking Africa Facts Zone’s Claims on Ghana’s Global and African Positioning: A Case of over oversimplification

A Facebook post by Africa Facts Zone made a number of claims on Ghana’s African and global positioning. It stated that the country has free education and free basic healthcare, and serves as the world’s fastest growing economy in 2019 and 2018, Africa’s third most peaceful country, Africa’s third strongest currency, Africa’s fourth most powerful country, and Africa’s fourth cheapest internet.

After the indication from the owner of the page IsimaOdeh to Dubawa that the claims were based on basic google research, Dubawa fact-checked the claims and found some to be true and others false. Click here for the full fact-check

Purported CNN bulletin photo claiming vaccinated COVID-19 patients eat other patients in hospital is fabricated 

A photo purporting to be a CNN live bulletin claiming that hospitals were on lockdown as the first COVID-19 vaccine patients started eating other patients  was found to be fabricated. Not only was the photo found to be fabricated, but the claims were also found to be untrue as CNN had made no such reports. Read the full fact-check here

False: NaCCA has not approved Golden Publication’s, English for Basic 4, for distribution or use

Some Ghanaian Twitter users have been caught in a debate over a textbook purported to be approved by Ghana Education Service (GES) and National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NaCCA) for teaching Basic school pupils with a method that suggests promoting the association and stereotype of Ewes to the use of juju or vodoo. Dubawa spoke to officials at the Ghana Education Service and the Director-General of the National Council for Curriculum Assessment and found the claim to be false. Read the full fact-check here

Explainers and Media Literacy Articles 

  1. Dealing With the New Phase Of COVID-19 Infodemic – The Vaccine Misinformation Wave 
  2. Ghana set to begin Covid-19 Vaccination Programme – Dubawa Ghana
  3. The law of ‘double honourable mention’: Becoming a Minister of State in Ghana

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Website: ghana.dubawa.org

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Maxine Gloria Danso is a Senior Researcher with Dubawa Ghana. Maxine has previously worked as a Research Assistant engaging in some notable communication research projects in Ghana, having completed a Master of Philosophy programme in Communication Studies at the University of Ghana, with specialisation in journalism, public relations and advertising. She also holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and French from the University of Ghana, with a University Diploma in French Studies from Université Rennes 2 in France. Maxine contributes to the team by drawing from her knowledge and research experience in media studies.

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