COVID-19: Why Some People Think It’s a Hoax and the Way Forward

At the early days of the arrival of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, in Ghana, many did not downplay the ramifications it carried, considering the signal it sent to some countries in Europe, United States and Asia, particularly China, where it emanated.

The novelty of the virus aroused numerous conspiracies where even findings from scientists were overturned within a short space of time. Amongst these conspiracies were claims that, the virus couldn’t withstand hot temperature, which many hot regions embraced with elation, especially in Africa.

With hundreds and thousands of people dying in Europe, United States and other regions, Africa, as predicted by the World Health Organisation (WHO) was to experience the worst fatalities from the virus, considering the poor health infrastructure on the continent. Nevertheless, with almost 25 million cases worldwide, the entire continent has registered a little over 1.2 million cases with less than 30,000 fatalities.

Ghana has recorded 43,841 cases with 270 deaths at the time of filing this report.

Irrespective of the cases and deaths recorded, some people still doubt the existence of Covid-19 for reasons best known to them.

An Ashanti regional report on Adom TV had some residents of Obuasi saying “the disease is a hoax and even if it exists, it’s only on the Whiteman’s land and not in Africa.”

“If the government wants us to believe the existence of the virus, they should show us pictures like the foreign media have been doing,” other comments revealed.

Another report from Awutu Senya East, the only district in the Central region included in the Greater Accra and Greater Kumasi partial lockdown, revealed same stance from some residents on the virus.

Do people’s doubt about the reality of the virus has any repercussions on its eradication? If the people need “evidence” to believe the existence of the virus, what stops authorities from providing what they seek to clear all doubts?

The Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research (NMIMR), the leading biomedical research centre in Ghana has contributed in several ways as far as curbing Covid-19 is concerned. The Institute’s Director, Professor Abraham Kwabena Anang provided some insight on this to Fact-check Ghana.

Prof. Anang said because in Africa generally, and Ghana in particular, majority of the positive cases were asymptomatic, some people did not even see, experience or realise they have the virus, which was the main problem in the country and “that is why people think it doesn’t exist.”

He emphasised the need to be extra careful since the repercussions of reinfection had not been established. He said the aftermath could be more deadly than it is now.

“We’ve not been able to establish clearly what happens to someone after the person is infected again, so we need to be very careful because there are many things we do not know now. Too many things are now being learnt and that’s always a dangerous situation,” he stated.

Presenting people with evidence to appreciate the enormity of the danger the virus poses would have cleared many doubts as demanded, but the stigma and ethics of the profession, according Prof. Anang, wouldn’t permit that.

“If you are able to let people see the evidence, that will let people believe, but the challenge is the ethics attached to the whole thing. Ethically, the British Prime Minister, for instance, came out himself to announce that he was positive and now and there is no problem with it. But the issue in Ghana here is, there is even stigmatisation, so it’s a bit difficult to say we should publicise the positive patients because, due to some of these challenges you cannot even show their faces or publish the names of such people and people will still begin to doubt again, so it’s a dicey thing,” he explained.

He implored “sociologists and psychologists to come out to do a little bit more work so that we know how to communicate these things in our part of the world for people to take it serious and not put the whole public life in a threat.”

He also suggested that information be made readily available, especially in the various local languages, for people to understand the dynamics of the pandemic.

Prof. Anang added that, when the information is disseminated in a decentralised manner, people will personalise it and accept than seeing it far from them as the status quo prescribes.

“We have to let the information be available when we have it. When someone is being asymptomatic, how the disease affects people, how people react and everything about it and they will believe it. If you find the best way to present it to the people and personalise it for them, such as making it community based, in schools, districts, they will accept it. But right now, people see the whole thing far from them,” Prof. Anang said.

The NMIMR Director bemoaned how people had taken the ease in restrictions to suggest nonexistence of the virus. He said without that directive from government, the consequences, would have been brutal.

“The economic restrictions that have been relaxed is the right thing to do because if the economy suffers too much, we may end up having people dying out of socio-economic problems even more than the virus itself would kill. It is therefore imperative that Ghana relaxes some of her preventive restrictions especially the economic ones, so that the economy would move on. But people should take the safety precautions serious,” he indicated.

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