By Albert Nxumalo
Some Zimbabweans and nationals from other African countries believe that drinking tea, use of mosquito nets and taking the vaccine against pneumonia protects them from contracting the global Covid-19 pandemic, a new report shows.
The findings are part of a UNICEF survey conducted between March and November 2020 meant to identify key trends and inform recommendations for specific areas of risk communications and community engagement related to Covid-19 which covered 11 countries in the East and Southern Africa region.
The report said there were high awareness levels on the virus in African countries but low individual risk perception.
“There was substantial knowledge on common Covid-19 preventive measures, but some respondents believed that antibiotics, tea or hot water, and mosquito net prevent COVID- 19,” respondents in Burundi, Eswatini, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe said.
Over a million people participated in the survey which uses a U-Report, a messaging programme designed by UNICEF mostly for adolescent and young people, although it also promoted broader community participation and engagement to address issues that affect children and young people, the report said.
It is a free SMS social monitoring tool for community participation. SMS polls and alerts are sent out to U- Reporters and real-time response information is collected.
The report said between 32% to 49% of respondents perceived having a high risk of contracting Covid-19.
“Individual risk perception of contracting COVID-19 was low”.
On awareness levels since the outbreak of the virus, the report said it was commendable and ‘the number of people who had heard about Covid-19 has gradually increased across countries and reached 98% in September” in Burundi, Eswatini, Malawi, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe.
The report added “fever was a well known Covid-19 symptom. The majority of respondents were aware of all COVID-19 symptoms (fever, cough, sore throat, and difficulty breathing)”.
However, it raised concern that there was substantial misinformation on Covid-19 transmission, symptoms prevention and treatment.
During the survey in Eswatini, Mozambique, South Africa, and Zambia “up to 70% of respondents declared that Covid-19 is transmitted through contact with infected people.
“But, beliefs that it can be transmitted through air, sexual contact, and mosquito bite reflect knowledge gaps on Covid-19 transmission”.
Misinformation on Covid-19 prevention and treatment in Burundi, Malawi, Mozambique, and Tanzania was also widespread, the report noted.
“There were enduring myths on COVID-19 prevention and treatment: 49% of respondents believed that eating garlic or taking lemon may prevent COVID-19; 25% said that it can be prevented by drinking hot drinks; 28% to 33% considered that hand dryers are an effective mean to eliminate coronavirus; 15% to 37% agreed that vaccine against pneumonia protects them against COVID- 19; 15% of respondents believed that antibiotics are effective in preventing and treating COVID-19”.
Recently, countless chain messages have been circulating on social media with some linked to how steaming kills the new coronavirus.
The viral messages advise people to steam three times a day, adding various ingredients such as ginger, Zumbani, garlic, and so on until one sweats because the inhalation keeps the air channels open and lungs clean.
However, health experts say there is no scientific evidence that steaming can kill Covid -19 and warn such advise is misleading .
“People must follow the recommended guidelines on how Covid-19 is managed and what medicines are prescribed by the Ministry of Health and Child Care, otherwise there is no scientific evidence that steaming kills the coronavirus,” said Dr Nyasha Masuka, a specialist community physician told CITE in a recent interview.
Some people are also advocating for use of herbs claiming they protect one from getting the virus.
Herbs commonly used vary with places and usually people burn and sniff or make solutions from tree roots, barks and leaves to drink for stomach pains, headaches, colds, flu, fever, immune boosting and to clean blood.
But health experts say while herbal medicines are good for health and may help address some symptoms of Covid-19, they cannot prevent, treat or cure the coronavirus.
To counter the threat of misinformation, it said identifying and addressing false information rapidly is effective and creates space for reliable and relevant information to circulate.
“Address underlying causes of myths, these often reflect underlying anxieties or pre-held social or political positions and beliefs. Spreaders of misinformation often do not wilfully share incorrect information, but have a poor understanding of science: take the time to explain correct information clearly and accessibly,” recommended the report.