COVID-19 is probably one disease that has generated so many myths and disbeliefs. Although generally known to have originated from Wuhan, China, the Chinese government did not do much to dispel the controversies on the disease. There are also conspiracy theories of the disease being a biological weapon, which escaped from a laboratory, by both China and the West. However, this piece is not about those claims. It is worrisome that some people are still creating fictions and fantasies about the disease which they know little or nothing about.
The conspiracy theory concerning the origin of the disease has even eclipsed the claimed animal origin of the disease. The claim to the animal origin of the disease explained that the disease was first discovered in Wuhan area of China among people that consume animal meat such as bats, monkeys and other wild animals. In spite of the various arguments for and against the origin of the global pandemic, the reality of the situation is that the disease has killed millions of people across the world and it is still killing more people in Europe and America.
In fact, no continent is free from the devastating impact of the disease. It has ruined the global economy, caused job losses and altered existing socio-economic reality. We are now living in a period of the ‘new normal’ and must learn to live with those COVID-19 medical and non-medical precautions. COVID-19 is not the first disease in history to be associated with so many myths, disbeliefs and conspiracy theories.
Diseases like syphilis, gonorrhea suffered similar fates. Even the HIV/AIDS did not escape many conspiracy theories which will not be part of this discussion for want of space and the need to focus on the issue of today’s article. Despite the reality of HIV/AIDS, so many people still believe it was invented in the laboratory to depopulate Africa and other third world countries. Others believe it was meant to discourage sexual intercourse.
Now the most threatening disbelief about COVID-19 is that it is meant to promote global vaccine business. Another myth about the pandemic is that the introduction of 5G technology in mobile communication is meant to spread the COVID-19 disease. To those that share this view, COVID-19 is not real and therefore does not exist. Yet another is that the pandemic was manufactured to depopulate Africa and other third world countries.
These conspiracy theories are fueling the general disbelief about the disease. And the way China handled it left much to be desired. There was so much secrecy about the etiology of the virus and its spread. Although some vaccines, BioNTech-Pfizer, Moderna, and Astra Zeneca-Oxford University, have been developed to curb the effect of the disease, the harm has been done by so much misinformation about the disease.
It is sad that many people have vowed not to take the vaccine even if given free of charge. The experience of black people in America over the politics of vaccine has not really helped matters. It will be pretty hard convincing black people and some skeptics on the need to take COVID-19 vaccines. Vaccines have reportedly been used to reduce the population of some people. Some vaccines sent to Africa have reportedly caused infertility and even killed some of the babies. The Pfizer tragic drug trial in Kano in 1996 following the outbreak of cerebro spinal meningitis is a good case in point.
When the COVID-19 emerged, the general opinion is that Africa will be the worst hit considering the poor healthcare delivery system on the continent. Fortunately, Africa turned out to be the least affected in terms of number of infections and deaths. Since then, the West has come up with so many arguments why Africa is least affected despite its decrepit health system. They said our self-medication and use of BCG vaccine have helped Africa. Others claim that our abundant sunshine enable us to have Vitamin D while we get Vitamin C from lots of fruits we consume.
They even claim that our unhygienic environment might have given us enough immunity plus abundant garlic and other spices Africans consume. Irrespective of the veracity or otherwise of these claims, they have fueled further conflicting beliefs and disbeliefs about the disease. Also, the fact that the disease affects more the affluent people in the society has made Africans, especially Nigerians to believe that it is a rich man’s disease.
This in itself has created a communication problem for the novel pandemic. Since communication is key to understanding the disease and its effects, there is need to embark on effective strategic communication about the disease. The statistics released globally and locally every week will remain ordinary figures unless human faces are attached to them as was done during the advent of HIV/AIDS pandemic.
Those who believe that the disease does not exist will like to see pictures of those who had the disease in isolation centres or wards receiving treatment. They would like to see the pictures of those killed by the disease. We believe that pictures will better tell the story of the pandemic and remove the myths and disbeliefs about the disease. There is no doubt that Nigerians will like to see the pictures of Nigerians, including ordinary folks affected by the disease.
It is good that some celebrities who had the disease are coming out to tell Nigerians about their ugly experiences, such stories would have been more effective if backed with clinical pictures of the victims receiving treatment. Since seeing is believing, those handling the disease should strive to match their statistics with actual pictures of people down with the disease and those already killed by the pandemic.
While it is true that scientists are still studying about the novel coronavirus and its effects on humans, there is need for steady updates on the disease. Also, money must be spent in informing the public strategically about the disease, how to access treatment and medical and non-medical preventive measures. Apart from pharmaceutical interventions, Nigerians must adhere to non- medical precautions to prevent the disease until a cure is finally discovered. To the doubting Thomases, COVID-19 pandemic is real and not a hoax as being ignorantly claimed by many people, including some Nigerians.
The disease has killed so many people the world over, it is still killing so many people and it will kill more if the current doubts and disbeliefs about the disease still persist. Therefore, it has become imperative that the government must engage the services of professional communicators, especially those versed in disease communication to bring home to Nigerians and others the true story of COVID-19 and its devastating impacts on humanity.