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Vaccination in Kenya has a Fake News Problem; And it is Not Happening Online

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Vaccination in Kenya has a Fake News Problem; And its Not Happening Online
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When you come across the term ‘fake news’, you will most likely think it has something to do with politics. This is because the majority of the research and attention given to fake news has been focused on its use in politics and election campaigns. However, misinformation and disinformation also presents a big challenge in other sectors. Health is one such area that our research shows is also being affected by fake news. However, it does’nt get the mainstream attention afforded to categories like politics.

As the Information Age has evolved in the era of social media, we have seen misinformation in health explode with no system of facts in place to counter the spread of falsehoods. Misinformation to do with health is uniquely delicate in that it completely suffocates the truth in many cases, exposing people to very real physiological danger. The forces behind this brand of fake news includes false advertising pushing products like waist trainers, genitalia enlargement pills, magical weight loss pills and meal replacements. The misinformation is also spread through myths and misconceptions of diseases such as ebola, as witnessed on social media whenever an outbreak occurs. In countries like the U.S, vaccine hesitancy has found a home online with the ‘anti-vaxxer’ movement gaining massive momentum in Facebook groups and other social media channels. ‘Anti-vaxxers’ believe there’s a connection between vaccination and autism, as well as other brain disorders, despite there being no scientific evidence supporting that theory. We have also seen healthcare being caught up in political tugs of war, leading to falsehoods being trumpeted by influential public figures or mainstay institutions like the church. In short, fake news is seriously damaging our health.

This phenomenon has been manifested in Kenya in the area of vaccination. The country has a long history of vaccine hesitancy and distrust, which has been mainly fuelled by the church’s skepticism towards the procedure. A survey carried out by Ipsos in 2014 found:

  • As much as 45% of Kenyan Catholics believe that the tetanus vaccine is being used to depopulate Kenyan populations,
  • While the Catholic Church are the most vocal against vaccines, in other Christian denominations as much as 65% of them also believed the vaccine is a tool for depopulation,
  • 40% of Muslims consider the vaccine to be a depopulation device, with 77% of North Eastern Province residents being in opposition to the vaccine,
  • As a testament to the power of misinformation, education was not a factor influencing people’s beliefs in whether the vaccine is a depopulation mechanism or not.

Most recently, there has been loud public debate and uproar over a national cervical cancer vaccine drive planned by the Kenyan Government and targeted at girls aged 9 to 14 years.

We conducted research around this conversation and other vaccine-oriented conversations in recent history to understand the underlying attitudes towards vaccines among Kenyans. We wanted to trace any misinformation and misconceptions being pushed online around this issue and the forces behind it. Here is what we found:

1. News stories are the trigger of conversations around the vaccine. News coverage sparks Kenyans to share misinformation around vaccines, either innocently or maliciously.

As with any other facet of public health, vaccine drives need to be supplemented by media campaigns in order to get vital information out to the public. However, the opposition to the vaccines, mainly by the Church, tends to make the vaccine drives a news item in themselves.

In our research we identified that there is no active digital anti-vaccination campaign in Kenya. No specific organisation of any kind is actively churning out fake news about vaccines to a specific target audience.

In the absence of an active digital misinformation campaign or news coverage, vaccine misconceptions largely stay under the radar. This rapidly changes whenever a story is published. Sparked by news coverage, anti-vaccine sentiments tend to bubble to the surface and online commentary increases in comment sections on news sites and on social media. From this, we can conclude that the misinformation agent happens offline and the misconceptions appear online.

Mentions across the web for terms associated with vaccinations in December 2018

2. Politicians are emerging as influential misinformation agents about vaccines.

As the government wages a tug of war with the church over vaccines, the debate rapidly becomes political and invites other parties to weigh in on the matter. This is how an influential voice like ODM leader, Raila Odinga ends up holding a press conference to state that the tetanus vaccine led to the sterilization of over 500,000 women. This effectively makes the media a conduit for fake news. The data we collected shows how much conversation Mr.Odinga triggered by making one statement about vaccines.

Key word density graph for comments on news stories about vaccines in 2017

Raila appears prominently in conversations about vaccines from news data gathered, garnering more mentions than even the Church.

Examples of some of the comments we found

Politicians wield large influence over Kenyans and having them actively participate in spreading misinformation about the vaccine could have far-reaching effects. Our research shows that very few politicians so far, have shared views digitally about vaccines. But as with everything in politics, this could change in an instant.

3. Prominent coverage of misinformation agents by mainstream Kenyan media lends credibility to the information and spreads it beyond Kenya’s borders.

Kenya has become a leading case study among anti-vaccination communities around the world. Many have used information reported on mainstream Kenyan media to lend credence to their claims of vaccines as tools of depopulation. Videos of the Raila Odinga press conference on the tetanus vaccine were shared by anti-vaccine sympathisers across the world. The content has been used to create several videos on Youtube, with the most popular having over 93,000 views.

Infowars, the infamous conspiracy theory website founded by Alex Jones, also picked up on these claims and wrote an article and even did an entire video which is also available on YouTube.

4. Several members of the public often make attempts to correct the misconceptions of others that they see in the comment sections of vaccine stories.

In the absence of a proper system of fact checking to counter the vaccine misinformation and misconceptions, we are seeing members of the public trying to correct misconceptions when they encounter them. However, while this is positive, it also runs the risk of misinformation being countered with more misinformation.

Methodology:

Data collection: Historical Keyword data collection off of Twitter to do with terms relevant to vaccines
Facebook: Data collected from Daily Nation, The Star and Standard Facebook pages by mining stories to do with vaccines then collecting the comments in the comment sections.

Time period: 2016–2018

Odipodev is a data analytics and research firm operating out of Nairobi. They can be contacted on team@odipodev.com

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Odipodev is a data analytics and research firm operating out of Nairobi.

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COVID-19 in Kenya: A Situational Analysis of the Now and the Near Future

Using mathematical modelling, Professor Waititu simulates the progress of the coronavirus outbreak.

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Photo: Unsplash/Fusion Medical Animation
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The daily positive cases in Kenya are on an upward trend. The highest daily count of 278 cases was reported on 27/06/2020. The total confirmed cases so far are 6,070.

In Africa, the five countries with the highest number of confirmed cases are South Africa with 138,134 cases, Egypt with 65,188 cases, Nigeria with 24,567 cases, Ghana with 16,742 cases and Algeria with 13,273 cases.

Testing

The number of confirmed cases could be attributed to the total number of tests conducted by a country. For example, by 27th June 2020, South Africa had tested 1.53 Million people. Ghana had tested 288,465 people by 25th June 2020, Nigeria had tested 130,164 people by 28th June 2020 while Kenya had 165,196 tests by 29th June 2020. The implication here is that the positive cases in Kenya could increase with increased number of tests. Kenya will therefore have to increase the number of tests across the country incase the government decides to remove its lock down restrictions in the identified hot spots. Early detection of positive cases and proper contact tracing are very important in the recovery of infected cases.

Death Rate

On the death rate, Kenya has registered 143 fatalities, translating to a death rate of 2.36%. South Africa which has the highest number of confirmed cases in Africa at 138,134, has a lower death rate of 1.78%. One of the highest death rates in Africa has been reported in Algeria at 6.78% from 897 deaths. Ghana has one of the lowest reported death rate of 0.67% from 112 deaths. Egypt has a death rate of 4.28% from 2,789 deaths while Nigeria has a death rate of 2.30% from 565 deaths. Kenya is therefore doing relatively well in managing the positive cases compared to other African countries.

Recovery

Kenya’s recovery rate is currently at 32.47% from 1,971 recoveries. This is a much lower recovery rate compared to statistics from other African countries. South Africa has a recovery rate of 49.90 % from 68,925 recoveries, Algeria has a recovery rate of 70.60% from 9,371 recoveries while Ghana and Nigeria have recovery rates of 75.98 % and 36.66% respectively. Kenya needs to raise the recovery rate to a comfortable figure above 60%. This will help the country release pressure on the health system and also motivate the easing of the existing lockdown restrictions.

Infections Prediction

How will Kenyan COVID-19 infections look like in the coming days? The answer may not be definite since the spread of the virus is determined by the nature of community response to safety strategies given by MoH such as regular hand washing, social distancing and staying at home. However, as shown in the prediction graph below, the daily infections in Kenya are going to increase as time goes by. It is predicted that in the near future, the daily cases in Kenya will soon be above 300 with the possibility of a maximum of about 400. This conclusion is based on the assumption that the testing samples will be optimally selected.

Image 2.The Peak

Has Kenya reached it’s peak? The simple answer is no. As a matter of fact, Kenya will hit the 10,000 mark of confirmed cases within the month of July 2020. As seen in the graph below for cummulative confirmed cases, the positive cases are still on an upward trend. A peak will be experienced when the cummulative cases will start stagnating around a certain figure over time. With the current trend of infections, the earliest time Kenya will reach its peak is around September 2020. It should also be noted that incase the lockdown is relaxed, Kenya will definitely experience a surge in the infections before the situation stabilises. This has happened in other countries such as South Africa, Germany and China. Since COVID-19 has spread to most of the counties in Kenya, the focus now should be on the level of preparedness by the county governments in implementing the MoH guidelines and the avalaibility of functioning and COVID-19 equiped hospitals.

Image 2.This report is based on the data from the Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering (JHU CCSE) as at 9:00am E.A.T on 29/06/2010.

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Hands Up, Don’t Shoot

If things continue as they are, 2020 will be one of the deadliest years on record for the police. By 1st June 2020, 95 people had been killed by them.

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Hands Up, Don't Shoot
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Covid-19 regulation enforcement has added a new dimension to police killings in Kenya. 18% of this year’s victims died as a result of police enforcing these rules. You can view data on #policebrutalityke in the database we built with MissingVoicesKE.

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Young, Gifted and…Pregnant

The month of May is dedicated to preventing and ending teenage pregnancies worldwide. But as the month comes to an end, Kenya is still not close to achieving this goal.

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Photo: Unsplash/Michael Anfang
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One in every five Kenyan girls aged between 15-19 has had a live birth or is pregnant. It’s a mind-blowing statistic that speaks to the teenage pregnancy crisis in the country – the United Nations Population Fund estimates that there were about 380,000 cases in 2019 alone. Eighteen-year-old Patricia* (not her real name) was referred to me for legal advice, as she had one such pregnancy. Orphaned at an early age, her paternal uncle took her in but sexually abused her for several years. Today Patricia is 5 months pregnant and not in school, even though this should have been her final year. And while her uncle should be charged under the Sexual Offences Act – facing not less than 15 years in prison if convicted – Patricia will not testify against him for fear of losing the only financial support she has.

The month of May is dedicated to preventing and ending teenage pregnancies worldwide. But as the month comes to an end, Kenya is still not close to achieving this goal. Patricia is one of thousands of girls in Kenya stuck in a predicament caused by sexual violence, lack of information on, and access to youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health. For these girls, their education will be interrupted and their social and economic choices taken away from them.

Teen Pregancy Infographic.png

But there are also increased health risks associated with teenage pregnancies, including physical health issues like convulsions, uterine infections and obstetric fistula – a hole in the birth canal, resulting in incontinence of urine or faeces that often affects women who give birth too young – and mental health challenges like depression and anxiety. And there are risks to the unborn child including premature birth, low birth weight and other neonatal conditions. Preventing teenage pregnancies is about protecting the holistic health of both the mother and the potential unborn child, and by extension, society as a whole.

The Kenya Demographic Health Survey 2014 reported a 2% drop in teenage pregnancies over a 20-year period. This was caused by major changes in girl’s education programmes and in the sexual and reproductive health and rights landscape in Kenya that made birth control and other services more accessible to teenage girls. Yet in 2014, the Kenyan Parliament shot down the Reproductive Health Care Bill sponsored by Senator Judith Sijeny, which suggested among other things, that adolescents be given unrestricted access to comprehensive sexual education and confidential sexual and reproductive health services. There was uproar around the bill, with Kenyans citing religious and cultural beliefs to reject it. But the facts betray this opposition: the same survey (KDHS) shows that about 11% of teenagers, nationwide are having sex before their 15th birthday. Kenya’s teenagers need better access to sexual and reproductive health services.

It’s not all doom and gloom though. In 2013, Kenya signed the Ministerial Commitment on Comprehensive Sexuality Education and Sexual and Reproductive Health Services for Adolescents and Young People in Eastern and Southern Africa. In 2015, the Ministry of Health enacted the National Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health Policy that aims to enhance the sexual and reproductive health status of adolescents in Kenya and contribute towards realization of their full potential in national development. Additionally, two months ago in March, Kenya through the National Council on Population Development (NCPD), launched the first-ever government-led multi-stakeholder campaign against teenage pregnancy dubbed ‘Let’s Act to End Teenage Pregnancy’.

But sex education is still not being uniformly delivered across the country. Teachers are not all adequately trained and can often pass misinformation onto the students. An African Population and Health Research Center (APHRC) study found that 1 in 4 secondary school students in Homa Bay, Mombasa and Nairobi counties thinks that using a condom during sexual activity is a sign of mistrust. The content of the curriculum is also heavily focused on content covering abstinence and sexually transmitted infections, ignoring other important topics like contraceptive use and access to safe abortion. Furthermore, a new Reproductive Health Care Bill (2019) threatens to negate the gains made on adolescent sexual and reproductive health and rights as it requires health providers to seek parental consent before providing adolescents with sexual and reproductive health services. Requiring parental consent is likely to result in an increase in unintended teenage pregnancy and unsafe abortions because teenagers may not want their parents to know about their sexual activities.

Ending teenage pregnancies will take a concerted effort of policy mixes. The judiciary must strictly implement the Sexual Offences Act. The legislature must review the issue of bride price, particularly, where teenage girls are concerned to de-incentives teenage marriages. Increased girls educational programs and opportunities created. Teachers must receive adequate training on comprehensive sexuality education. A wide range of sexual and reproductive health topics should be taught in the classroom but also parents and guardians must take the lead in providing their teenagers with correct and age appropriate information on sex. Lastly, the legislature must urgently amend Section 33(a) of the proposed reproductive health care law, to enable teenagers freely access quality, youth friendly sexual and reproductive health services. It’s time to bring down Kenya’s startling teenage pregnancy statistics.

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