The World Health Organisation (WHO) announced last week that it will receive an additional €16 million worth of funding for its Covid-19 vaccination programmes in Africa from the European Union (EU). 

Only 15% of Africa’s population is currently fully vaccinated. The EU’s cash injection will help raise this figure by tackling the root causes of low immunisation, such as issues with funding, logistics and disinformation.

Conspiracies and fake news are rife in Africa and lowered trust in the vaccine, Grace Asante*, a senior researcher for fact-checking organisation Dubawa, explained. 

“When credible news of clinical trials of vaccines finally started being shared, it was met with vaccine disinformation. We noticed that most people were hesitant and uncertain of the efficacy and effectiveness, and to some, the agenda of the vaccines,” she said. 

Many believe that the vaccine causes death, aims to “eliminate Africans”, impacts fertility, or has dangerous, unproven risks, Asante added. 

A man receives his vaccination shot in Cape Town, South Africa. (AP Photo/Nardus Engelbrecht)

To combat such disinformation, the WHO has launched a wide range of initiatives – from training teachers to become immunisation advocates to creating the Africa Infodemic Response Alliance, which brings together major organisations like UNICEF with local fact-checking platforms. 

This is crucial for the ongoing pandemic and future public health crises, Sergio Cecchini, the head of the infodemic response alliance, believes. 

“We have learnt that countries should really make infodemic management, so plans to detect and respond to misinformation, a permanent component of their strategy,” he said. 

In addition to helping governments develop disinformation response plans, this could include setting up e.g. media literacy programmes, he explained. These would teach people how to spot disinformation and verify social media and news content. 

The EU’s additional funding is set to boost exactly such initiatives – and will therefore be crucial in achieving the WHO’s goal of administering hundreds of millions more vaccine doses in Africa. 

*name changed for privacy reasons.

Check out our new podcast about health myths and conspiracies, Deadly Disinformation! The first episode about Covid-19 disinformation is coming on Friday!

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