April 21, 2022

In West Africa, fact-checkers are cooperating to expand their influence on local, national and international levels to curb misinformation about vaccines. Organizations are banding together, forming alliances with intergovernmental groups and creating cross-continent task forces to elevate health knowledge across Africa.

“I think the most important thing is to highlight how fact-checkers leverage collaboration to maximize impact at the governmental level and the national level with the sole aim of tackling the infodemic,” said Rabiu Alhassan, managing editor of Ghana Fact, a fact-checking project of FactSpace West Africa.

Despite the increase in information on vaccines in West Africa, many are still concerned about their potential risks. The hesitance is fueled by misinformation spread through word-of-mouth, social media and even television and radio. According to aggregate Google data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other sources, only 16.3% of Ghana — or 5.3 million Ghanans — have been fully vaccinated. However, as with many nations, vaccine scarcity in Ghana is primarily what’s driving its relatively low vaccination rate.

“We are also leveraging on the reach of traditional media platforms including radio and TV platforms, via the Ghana Fact-Checking Network, where we trained more than 100 journalists to become fact-checkers, and also partnered with more than 30 media organizations to help publish our fact checks in local languages to ensure the offline reach of our fact checks,” Alhassan said.

One Ghana Fact fact check examines a claim spread on TikTok that COVID-19 vaccines were made to kill African people. The video displays a man speaking Indigenous Ghanan asserting that several European countries have stopped using the AstraZeneca vaccine and that the vaccine will kill Africans. In fact, while the use of AstraZeneca was temporarily suspended in many European countries, use was resumed after a further investigation. Ghana Fact rated the claim “misleading.” Another Ghana Fact fact brief addresses the topic of mixing and matching vaccines.

An infodemic, as defined by the Africa Infodemic Response Alliance — or AIRA —  is “too much information during a public health crisis, including false or misleading information, in both the digital and physical environments.” The AIRA partners with IFCN verified signatories on the continent (including Ghana Fact) with United Nations health agencies to provide prompt responses to COVID-19 misinformation, with the goal of bridging gaps in health information.

“The collaboration opened us up to support a national effort in Ghana, which is the national COVID-19 misinformation task force, which is a government-led effort to tackle COVID-19 misinformation and promote demand generation of COVID-19 vaccines across the country,” Alhassan said.

“With COVID-19, Ebola or any other outbreak, a glut of information can confuse people and fuel behaviours that drive the spread of disease. It can undermine trust in health authorities which hampers public health responses and ultimately prolongs outbreaks,” The World Health Organization website reads. The WHO hosts the Africa Infodemic Response Alliance.

FactSpace West Africa, a verified signatory to the International Fact-Checking Network, is currently operating in Ghana and Gambia, though it aims to soon expand to additional West African countries.

“We have over 16 countries in the subregion. So there is the vision — the ambition to expand to other West African countries,” Alhassan said.

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Seth Smalley is a reporter at Poynter and the IFCN. Get in touch at seth@poynter.org or on Twitter @sethsalex.
Seth Smalley

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