Research collaboration addresses COVID-19 myths in African communities

Western Sydney University academics, Associate Professor Kingsley Agho and Research Fellow Dr Levi U Osuagwu, have led an international research collaboration assessing the impact of COVID-19 on the world’s African communities.

According to Associate Professor Agho from the University’s School of Health Sciences and Translational Health Research Institute, the African Translation Research group, was formed to measure and respond to misinformation, misconceptions and myths that spread during lockdown periods among African communities.

“This research group came together out of necessity during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Associate Professor Agho.

“Speaking with fellow researchers and medical professionals in the field, we noted growing concerns about misinformation being spread amongst the community, including through word of mouth, social media and traditional media.”

“To better understand and address these misconceptions, we brought together experts from nine universities across the globe who met fortnightly over Zoom to design, plan and execute a range of research projects.”

The interdisciplinary group has since published a number of research studies, including Misinformation About COVID-19 in Sub-Saharan Africa: Evidence from a Cross-Sectional Survey, recently published in the journal, ‘Health Security’.

According to lead author Dr Osuagwu, from the University’s School of Medicine, the study tested four statements related to COVID-19 and found that 27 per cent of the 1,969 participants from Sub-Saharan Africa believed ‘drinking hot water flushes down the virus’.

“We found a significant proportion of respondents believed the COVID-19 related myths put to them to be true, and those who believed the misinformation, felt that their risk of risk of catching the virus was low,” said Dr Osuagwu.

“These participants were less likely to comply with the precautionary public health measures such as hand washing, wearing a facemask and avoiding events with large gatherings.”

Dr Osuagwu further explains that as Africans travel with their culture, learnings from the study are relevant to Australian African communities and have informed engagement programs the pair have led.

“We have held various sessions with African communities in Australia to provide support and to ensure they have access to evidence-based information,” he said.

“Team members are now presenting the research findings to their respective universities across Africa to raise further awareness.”

Emeka Ezenwoke from the Nigerian Community Association in Queensland is one of the community leaders who participated in the workshops.

“Attending this workshop has made me become more aware of how my actions may contribute to increase in spread of misinformation around COVID-19. Previously, I forwarded the messages received from people to my contacts without checking their accuracy,” said Emeka.

Researchers and health professionals involved in the African Translation Research group include: Western Sydney University; Associate Professor Richard Oloruntoba (Curtin University); Prof Tanko Ishaya, Associate Professors Piwuna Goson, Miner Chundung (University of Jos Nigeria); Dr Bernadine Ekpenyong (University of Calabar); Dr Godwin Ovenseri (Qassim University Saudi Arabia); Dr Emmanuel Abu (University of Cape Coast, Ghana); Prof Khathutshelo Percy Mashige (University of KwaZulu Natal, South Africa); Dr Timothy Chikasirimobi (Masinde Muniro University of Science and Technology, Kenya); Dr Obinna Nwaeze (NHS, United Kingdom), Dr Raymond Langsi (University of Bamanda, Cameroon) and Mrs Deborah Charwe (Nutrition Center, Tanzania).

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