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Myths on COVID-19 pandemic spread across Zimbabwe

Myths derailing fight against disease in Zimbabwe

Jeffrey Moyo   | 29.07.2020
Myths on COVID-19 pandemic spread across Zimbabwe

HARARE, Zimbabwe 

Some Zimbabweans say COVID-19 thrives in winter, while some, like 45-year old Pamela Hove, who lives in the capital Harare, claim the disease is less deadly for Black Africans.

But even amid these claims, cases of the dreaded novel coronavirus have been rising across Zimbabwe, with deaths now recorded almost daily.

Dr. Portia Manangazira, the director of Epidemiology and Disease Control in Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Health and Child Care, said: "The important points from our data is that it’s clear we now have community transmission and the mode of transmission being person to person. There is currently a low risk perception at individual and community levels. For this reason, cases continue to rise.“

Many Zimbabweans, like Pamela, do not buy into the COVID-19-related deaths neither does she believe cases are as many as officially reported.

Racial myths on coronavirus

“Blacks rarely die due to coronavirus. It’s just a disease which infects them, just like common cold and it disappears. We have been lied to about many people falling sick due to COVID-19,” Pamela told Anadolu Agency.

Pamela lives in Mbare, one of the oldest townships in Harare, where she runs a fruit and vegetable vendors stall by the gate at her house.

To medical practitioners, like Mevion Chuma, Zimbabwe’s poor places such as Mbare -- where many like Pamela live -- "are the sources of myths and misinformation about COVID-19."

As such, ordinarily, Zimbabweans are caught up in a lot of myths and of course misinformation about the pandemic.

Chuma, who runs his own private surgery in Harare, said that owing to myths, "people here commonly believe that coronavirus can be treated by simply bathing in 60 degrees [Celsius] hot water."

Misinformation about COVID-19

Even the World Health Organization has said the outbreak and response have been accompanied by an over-abundance of information -- some accurate and some not.

For Catherine Mukwapati, a civil society activist, "this makes it tough for people to then find reliable sources and dependable guidance when they need it to curtail coronavirus."

“The myths,” Mukwapati added, “include claims on cures and prevention.”

She also said: "For instance, people think that taking a hot bath will prevent them from contracting COVID-19, which is just mythical and therefore untrue."

“The sure way to protect oneself against the disease is by frequently cleaning your hands using hand sanitizers which eliminate viruses,” Mukwapati told Anadolu Agency.

No climate boundaries for pandemic

In Zimbabwe, one of the hottest regions in Africa, even the country’s educated citizens like 29-year old Dan Gowere -- holder of a university degree in History -- have always believed they were safe from coronavirus.

But, now, Gowere is stuck at home in self-isolation after he recently tested positive for COVID-19.

Yet, Zimbabwe’s health officials have been loud making it known that the disease spreads across all types of climates.

“From the evidence so far, COVID-19 can be transmitted anywhere, including areas with hot and humid weather and therefore regardless of climate, Zimbabweans should adopt protective measures,” Mathias Gavanga from Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Health and Child Care, told Anadolu Agency.

Meanwhile, other Zimbabweans like 56-year old Tembi Dlela based in Bulawayo, the country’s second largest city, cling to the myth that "mosquito bites spread coronavirus and during seasons when mosquitos won’t be there, the disease doesn’t spread that much."

Gavanga said that "to date, there has been no data nor proof suggesting that the new coronavirus could be spread by mosquitoes."

“Coronavirus is a respiratory virus spreading primarily through droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes, or through droplets of saliva or discharge from the nose," Gavanga added.

Cleanliness answer to defeating disease

Therefore, added Gavanga, "for one to be safe from COVID-19, hands should be frequently cleaned with an alcohol-based hand rub or wash them with soap and water".

Now, with alcoholic hand sanitizers said to be agents to combating coronavirus, imbibers in Zimbabwe have also been on record claiming that beer is also panacea to anyone sick from coronavirus, but that has also been vehemently dismissed by the country’s health experts.

“Not even drinking nor spewing alcohol or chlorine over one’s body will slay COVID-19 that in essence would have long intruded one’s body,” Pikirayi Tembo who works as a laboratory technician at a top private hospital in Harare, told Anadolu Agency.

Zimbabwe’s youths, like 28-year old Terrence Mukusha, have equally pinned the blame on myths for the spread of coronavirus.

Mukusha works as a voluntary media officer at an international development organization called the Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO), which works through volunteers to fight poverty in 21 countries, 14 of which are in Africa.

The VSO works with the support of the UK Aid.

“A lot of myths and fakes news has been circulating around various social media platforms. Some of these myths include: black people cannot catch COVID-19. This made a lot of black people, especially in Africa, relax thinking they were immune to the virus,” Mukusha told Anadolu Agency.

Owing to the myths that have characterized coronavirus, Mukusha said such was the case in Cameroon, one of the African countries when coronavirus broke out.

Social media belting out COVID-19 myths

“News was circulating on WhatsApp platforms that a certain young man from Cameroon contracted coronavirus, but it then vanished like a normal flu,” Mukusha noted, adding that, thanks to the myths, "someone said alcohol gives some immunity to COVID-19" yet in reality, these are all falsehoods.

Instead of getting intoxicated with alcoholic beverages in any hope of getting rid of COVID-19, rather, Mukusha said: "People should use hand sanitizers with 70% or more alcohol content to reduce the risk of contracting the virus."

Bridget Mutsinze (25), another volunteer at the VSO, has also blamed myths for the spread of COVID-19 in Zimbabwe.

Mutsinze said as coronavirus started to spread outside the African continent, "it was believed to be spreading predominantly among the elite and the rich."

This, Mutsinze said was mythical, adding that "this brings me to Zimbabwe, an African country, where at the very beginning, we thought that COVID-19 was mostly affecting white people and we were immune as Africans because we had very few people who interact with people at a global level."

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