By Lisa Vives, Global Information Network
NEW YORK (IDN) – A new fact-checking industry had its hands full recently in Senegal when a fake news post on social media claimed that children were “dying on the spot” from vaccines against the corona virus.
The post, titled “Scandal in Senegal”, was shared thousands of times on Facebook even as the fact checkers insisted it was a hoax.
“There is a big scandal in Senegal,” the misleading news spot was heard to say on a Facebook video in Wolof. “There is a guy who came into a house to vaccinate kids for coronavirus. He vaccinated seven children who died on the spot.”
But when fact-checkers looked into the matter, the story quickly fell apart. Alassane Mbodji, who lives in the house seen in the video, strongly denied that any child had died. “Everything said on social networks is false,” he said firmly. “No one died of any vaccine. Our children are healthy… The fellow introduced himself as an agent of the Health Ministry but we quickly realized that he was not. He had no badge and had cosmetic and traditional medicines for sale in his bag.”
Mbodji reported him to the authorities and the matter was ended, but the rumor mill had picked up the story and run with it. Instagram picked up the post from an account called “bye_bye_big_pharma” which alleged that “CV vaccine tested in patients in Africa was passed without any animal safety studies. 7 children died on the spot after injection.”
From there, the story popped up in Ghana on ezone57.com, which ran the video under the headline: “Coronavirus: COVID-19 Vaccine Killed 7 Children in Senegal (West Africa) [VIDEO].” That post garnered considerable attention, and its headline appeared in screenshots on Facebook, before the website took down the story and published another debunking the claim.
A spokeswoman for Senegal’s health ministry picked apart the story that had raised fears in the population. First of all, she pointed out, there is no vaccine. “We have medical experts at the Institut Pasteur (a medical research institute) in Dakar working to create and certify a vaccine according to procedure. They will be completely transparent about their findings.”
There is no clinical trial currently underway in that country, or anywhere in Africa, according to a list of vaccine candidate compiled for the scientific journal Nature Reviews Drug Discovery. As of April 8, there were 115 candidates worldwide — and while 78 were confirmed as active, only five are in the clinical trial phase. Those five trials are happening in the U.S. and China.
The story follows an alarming actual report of two French scientists quoted to say that Africa would be a good testing ground for prospective vaccines. Their comments were immediately denounced by the World Health Organization.
Africa Check, which claims to separate fact from fiction, also looked into the matter and checked out false claim, namely that China was sending coronavirus vaccines to Africa. They found that claim to be false.
According to the Chinese embassy in Ghana, China donated medical personal protective equipment like N95 face masks, medical protective suits, goggles, gloves and temporal artery thermometers. The donated supplies did not include vaccines and, according to the World Health Organization, there is currently no vaccine for Covid-19.
Another Facebook post spreading misinformation said that face masks “should be used for a limited time as they reduce oxygen in the blood and the brain, cause weakness, and may lead to death”.
Misinformation and hoaxes are regularly picked up by Africa Check, an independent fact-checking organization which is expanding the number of languages fact-checked by 10.
Noko Makgato, executive director of Africa Check, says the expansion helps ensure that misinformation in languages other than English and French can be identified and dismissed.
Ghana Issues Warning after ‘Superspreader’ Event
Speaking at a night national address on May 10, President Nana Akufo-Addo revealed that a single worker at a fish factory here has infected 533 co-workers, bringing the total number of infections to 4,700 – the highest number in West Africa.
A superspreader event is a large COVID-19 infection cluster. The latest infection is part of a roughly two-week backlog of nearly 1,000 cases that had only just been reported, the president said.
Some 22 people have died of coronavirus-related causes, while 494 have recovered.
There are two large fish-processing plants in Tema, one owned by Thai Union Group PCL, the world’s top producer of canned tuna, and another owned by a local company called Cosmo Seafoods Company Ltd.
Abraham Koomson, the head of the Ghana Federation of Labour, said the 533 cases were at Thai Union’s Pioneer Food Cannery Limited plant and that the facility had closed down. He said a handful of Cosmo Seafoods workers had also tested positive.
With 160,501 tests since the outbreak, Ghana has carried out more tests per million people than any other country in Africa, the president said.
The government has been employing a “pool testing” strategy, which involves collectively reviewing up to 10 samples together and then only individually testing those in positive batches.
But as a result of the increased testing, Ghana’s case numbers will continue to rise above the current 4,700 confirmed infections in the country of 30 million.
“The more people we test for the virus, the more persons we will discover as positive,” the President said.
President Akufo-Addo’s speech came three weeks after he eased a 21-day lockdown on the capital Accra and the city of Kumasi, in the centre of the country, over concerns about economic repercussions for the many Ghanaian who work in the informal economy and live hand-to-mouth.
Ghana’s ban on mass gatherings and the closure of schools and universities will continue until the end of the month, he said.
Meanwhile, Veronica Bekoe, a Ghanaian public health official, has been travelling around the country introducing people to her invention, named the Veronica Bucket. A dustbin-sized plastic receptacle, it enables people to wash their hands in the absence of running water.
Desecration of Priceless Forests in Sierra Leone Halted
The crashing economies in Asia have been a blessing – if temporary to the endangered forests of Sierra Leone – particularly the tall stands of redwood trees, prized for their beauty, their rich mahogany colour and their high quality for furniture.
The illegal trade in the wood is one of the world’s most lucrative businesses and affects much of Southeast Asia and parts of Africa and South America. When demand started to increase in West Africa around 2010, exports went from basically zero to hundreds of millions of dollars in just a few years.
Over the last decade, about US$9 billion in rosewood was imported into China, and this accounts only for wood officially listed as rosewood, which excludes many species sold as ‘rosewood’ but not recorded as such.
But now the contraction in the Chinese economy has paused the illegal logging in the Outamba-Kilimi national park more than 1,100 square km of park protected by 27 unarmed rangers.
“No Chinese men are coming here anymore, and they’re the only people to come here and help us by buying what we cut,” said Ishmael Sessay, who has been harvesting timber from Sierra Leone’s oldest park since last year.
Logging for domestic use is allowed, but the government says logging in the park goes far beyond what is needed to satisfy home demand, and it does not have the resources to stop it.
“I feel pain in my heart when I see this forest cut,” said Musa Kamara, who worked as a ranger in the park from 1981 to 2018. “This sickness is the only thing keeping them away.”
In a related development, Nigeria is facing life without oil revenue as oil prices, now around $20 a barrel, have already skidded to the zero points.
“Global efforts to fight the spread of coronavirus have driven oil prices to low that they no longer cover the cost of pumping barrels… let alone providing the government with crucial cash,” wrote Bloomberg news wire.
Nigerian environmentalists should cheer this development. Their slogan has been “Keep the oil in the soil, keep the coal in the hole.” [IDN-InDepthNews – 14 May 2020]
Photo: Collage with images from Ghana and Sierra Leone.
IDN is flagship agency of the Non-profit International Press Syndicate.
This article was produced as a part of the joint media project between The Non-profit International Press Syndicate Group and Soka Gakkai International in Consultative Status with ECOSOC on 14 May 2020.
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