In Africa and Asia, coronavirus myths put most vulnerable at risk

by Amber Milne | @hiyaimamber | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 18 March 2020 19:15 GMT

Men wears a protective mask on a street in Adjame, area of Abidjan, Ivory Coast, March 17, 2020. REUTERS/Luc Gnago

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Rumours could fuel the spread of the virus among people in remote areas, with no internet access, and with little education

By Amber Milne

LONDON – March 18 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) From drinking cow urine to sleeping by chopped onions, myths about how people can catch and cure coronavirus are spreading rapidly. Concerns are growing that the rumours could fuel the spread of the virus among vulnerable people in Africa and South East Asia.

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The World Health Organization has described this as an "infodemic" which could put those in remote and rural areas, with no access to the internet, and with little education, at greater risk.

The WHO has organised workshops in some African countries to inform media professionals about coronavirus with no vaccines or drugs currently approved to treat or prevent COVID-19.

Britain's Department for International Development (DFID) has given 500,000 pounds ($600,000) to fund a project to challenge misinformation in South East Asia and Africa and direct people to the right advice to help stop the spread of the virus.

Here are seven coronavirus myths that are circulating among some of the world's more vulnerable communities:

  1. Black people can't get the virus

British actor Idris Elba disproved this rumour this week when he tested positive for coronavirusHealth experts have in no way concluded that any one race is at lower risk of contracting the virus or will be more easily cured.

  1. People with albinism are to blame

The rumour which circulated on African news outlets before appearing on social media could fuel stigma against those living with albinism in Africa, who already face risk of attacks due to beliefs that their body parts can be used as lucky charms or in magic potion.

  1. God will cure the virus

A bishop in Nigeria urged his followers to ignore government recommendations and attend pilgrimages to pray away the virus, while a mass pilgrimage of 16,000 people at a Malaysian mosque has been linked to further confirmed cases. 

  1. Cow urine can cure while non-vegetarian food to blame

While non-vegetarian foods have been blamed as causing coronavirus on social media under the hashtag #NoMeat_NoCoronaVirus, cow urine has been heralded as a cure. Various food authorities have dismissed these links including the Food Safety Authority of Ireland that said it is "unlikely the virus is passed on through food".   

  1. Chopped onions absorb the virus

In Myanmar, news websites reported claims supposedly from health officials that advised people to sleep next to chopped onions claiming this will "absorb the virus" or to drink ginger juice.

  1. Holistic remedies hold the cure

Indian yoga guru and entrepreneur Baba Ramdev claimed in a video that he had found an ayurvedic remedy - system of medicine with historical roots - toward off coronavirus.

Dr. Giridhar Babu, a professor of epidemiology at the Public Health Foundation of India, urged the Indian government to ban such advertisements and messages that "give a false sense of security.

"People who are not well educated, they are the ones who will get misled," he said.  

  1. Hot and humid weather kills the virus

Experts have considered the idea that hot and humid weather may help to stop the spread of coronavirus, leading many in warmer Asian climates to think they are safe from the disease, and increasing the risk of COVID-19 spreading undetected.

But a dramatic surge in coronavirus infections in Asia in recent days has increased doubts over a theory that warmer weather could stem the spread of the virus, health experts say.

(Reporting by Amber Milne. Editing by Belinda Goldsmith. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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