The earliest and most devastating misinformation about COVID-19 in Nigeria has been the denial of its existence and the consequential rejection of vaccination.
A Nigerian medical practitioner based in Kaduna State, Dr Sunday Asuke, told Nigerian Sketch that initial skepticism about the existence of the disease contributed to the rejection of preventive and curative measures that authorities recommended in the early stage of the spread of the disease.
He said “I think those promoting denial of its existence and those promoting rejection of vaccination constitute the most devastating setback to the early efforts to curb the disease.
Perhaps, the effects of denial of the existence of COVID-19 could be the worse, because it also contributes to the overall rejection of treatment and preventive measures, including the vaccine hesitancy and rejection that is common here in Northern Nigeria,” he said.
Dr Asuke confessed that he has not come across any study that traced the reason for the permeating denialism that greeted the advent of COVID-19 in 2020, but said he believes pervading state of illiteracy was a leading factor.
“How do you explain a person who will insist that a disease does not exist simply because no one around his neighborhood has contracted it?
“I think it is equally really baffling for a person to say, after having reluctantly conceded that a disease exists, that he is immune because he leaves in a tropical area?
“There was this funny insinuation that COVID-19 is a disease that affects only Caucasians, as opposed to Africans.
“The point I am making is that better educated people will react to a disease outbreak with cautionary disposition. For example, he will surely want to know how to identify the disease, how not to contract it, how it manifests and how to manage or treat it. Now, if it is an epidemic, people will want to know how to leave safely while it lasted.”
He explained that a year after, dominant misinformation still exists in Northern Nigeria especially, except that most of them have shifted from denialism to vaccination rejectionism.