By Sheriff Badmus
As barriers to internet access across all ages, income classes and gender are lessened compared to the past, researchers have suggested that digital divide is shifting from lack of access and connectivity to interpreting and understanding information when connected. Countries such as China, Egypt, France, Germany, Israel, Malaysia, and Russia have decided to enact sanctions on social media networks that spread false news by imposing fines and ordering the removal of information identified as fake.
According to statistica, Nigeria currently ranks highest in number of internet users in Africa with over 120 million internet users. The Nigerian Senate in its bid to curb the menace of fake news re-introduced the ‘Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulations Bill 2019’, which was unwelcomed by most Nigerians who see it as a means to curtail their freedom of expression.
Unverified claims can worsen the management of public health crises. Back in 2014 in various hospitals in Plateau State, two people died while 20 others were hospitalized over consuming excessive salt and bitter kola to prevent Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) following a viral message on social media that it could prevent the spread of the virus. As the global health community combats the novel coronavirus, bogus information about the outbreak is going viral as well.
Health officials around the world are struggling to keep up with unconfirmed reports about death toll numbers and how the virus is spread. UNICEF noted that ‘’The rise of misinformation during emergencies leads to mistrust of health systems and the diversion of critical resources needed to stop transmission.’’
WHAT IS THE CORONAVIRUS?
The novel coronavirus disease COVID-19 was first identified in Wuhan, China in December 2019. It is transmitted through direct contact, coughing and sneezing, and touching surfaces contaminated with the virus.
Symptoms can include fever, cough and shortness of breath. Some patients experience only mild symptoms. In more severe cases, infection can lead to pneumonia and sometimes death. According to UNICEF, more than 31,000 confirmed cases have been reported in 25 countries as at 7th February 2020. There is currently no cure, and researchers say it will take at least a year to develop a vaccine.
HOW MISINFORMATION ADDS TO THE PROBLEM
Rumours that the garlic and sesame oil could kill particular strands have driven The World Health Organization (WHO) to push back the frontiers of misinformation on Twitter using the hashtag #KnowTheFacts.
WHO has already declared the illness a global health emergency while warning against rumours and misinformation. The last time WHO declared a global health emergency was in 2019 for the Ebola outbreak in eastern Congo that killed more than 2,000 people.
In United Arab Emirates, one alert widely shared via popular messaging service Whatsapp, falsely attributed to the country’s Ministry of Health, warns that the virus will “invade” your throat “within 10 minutes” if you don’t drink enough water
THE SPREAD AND AFRICA
According to European Centre for Disease Control And Prevention, as 31 December 2019 and 18 February 2020, 73 328 cases of COVID-19 (according to the applied case definition in the countries) have been reported.
As of 18 February 2020, 1 873 deaths have been reported, 1 868 of which were in China (PRC), one in Hong Kong (Special Administrative Region), one in Taiwan, one in the Philippines, one in Japan and one in France.
Cases have been reported on the following continents:
Africa: Egypt (1).
Asia: China (PRC) (72 438), Hong Kong (Special Administrative Region) (60), Macao (Special Administrative Region) (10), Singapore (77), Japan (59), Thailand (35), Republic of Korea (31), Malaysia (22), Taiwan (22), Vietnam (16), United Arab Emirates (9), India (3), Philippines (3), Cambodia (1), Nepal (1) and Sri Lanka (1).
America: United States (15) and Canada (8).
Europe: Germany (16), France (12), United Kingdom (9), Italy (3), Spain (2), Russia (2), Belgium (1), Finland (1), and Sweden (1).
Oceania: Australia (15).
Other: Cases on an international conveyance (Japan) (454).
NIGERIA CENTRE FOR DISEASE (NCDC) BATTLES FAKE NEWS
The NCDC on its Facebook page kicked against a fake news targeting Lagos. The Centre wrote ‘’Fake news can cause panic, harm and lead to waste of resources. Please note that there is NO CASE of COVID19 in #Nigeria. We advise the public to share information from verified sources ONLY! The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control will continue to keep Nigerians informed.’’
Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, Director General of NCDC said on 14th February 2020 in a press briefing convened to provide updates to Nigerians on preparedness for COVID19 that “On behalf of Africa CDC, Nigeria has been asked to lead a training on Infection Prevention & Control (IPC) as part of COVID19 preparedness on the continent. Representatives from African countries will convene in Abuja to standardise our approach to IPC.”
Nigeria Centre for Disease Control NCDC has published details of the virus and her preparedness on her website which ranges from daily assessment, development of guidelines and regular communication with the general public to intensified screening at points of entry (POE).
The NCDC National Reference Laboratory has established testing capacity for SARS-CoV-2 in 3 labs: Virology Laboratory of Lagos University Teaching Hospital – LUTH; and Irrua Specialist Teaching Hospital. The centre has advised Health Officials to call 07032864444 for sample transportation and related advice if they have a case that fits the case-definition.
NCDC has stated that it is currently preparing treatment and isolation facilities in the Federal Capital Territory and seven other priority states in Nigeria. They are: Lagos, Akwa-Ibom, Rivers, Enugu, Delta, Cross River, and Kano State.
COMBATTING THE FAKE NEWS: THE ROLE OF TECH GIANTS
After WHO’s declaration Facebook Head of Health, Kang-Xing Jin made a blog post that the firm would “remove content with false claims or conspiracy theories that have been flagged by leading global health organizations and local health authorities that could cause harm to people who believe them.”
Google has started displaying information from the WHO about the virus in search results while its video-sharing platform YouTube is promoting videos on it from credible sources.
Twitter, meanwhile, has adjusted its search prompt to lift information from “authoritative health sources” to the top of the page when users make searches about the coronavirus.
However, the scare against Coronavirus continues as UNICEF launched a campaign against racial discrimination targeting areas most affected by the virus.