As government plans to roll out the Covid-19 vaccine, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize has called on civil society to help dispel dangerous misinformation.

Along with Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu, Mkhize held a virtual meeting with dozens of civil society groups last week. In tackling the pandemic together, Mkhize hopes civil society will step in to help drive behavioural change. This could be helping to drive awareness on mask-wearing and discouraging large gatherings.

Civil society organisations could also help their communities understand the importance of the vaccine when it arrives. Conspiracy theories and misinformation about the vaccine are already rife via social media. Factual information from a trusted source like a community organisation could be effective against this.

“It is quite clear that we need a stronger campaign to promote behavioural change and the uptake of vaccines,” Mkhize said. “We need support from civil society to spread the word about vaccines. This is probably one of the major programmes we have undertaken to save lives.”

Combating Covid-19 by sharing information

Representatives from civil society organisations raised concerns that some communities rely on traditional medicines. Mkhize has previously said that while these traditional medicines may soothe symptoms, they cannot be a complete substitute for pharmaceutical treatments or a vaccine.

Other civil society groups also raised questions about the use of Ivermectin, a drug currently used to treat animals that is believed to help treat Covid-19. The South African Health Products Regulatory Authority has not approved Ivermectin for use on humans. Mkhize has said the government will rely on the World Health Organisation’s guidance on the use of the drug

Other problems highlighted by the on-line attendees included access to healthcare for people living with disabilities while hospitals are under tight restrictions.

Covid-19 Ministerial Advisory Committee chairperson Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana said that the efforts to combat Covid-19 would be strengthened by collaboration and information sharing. He asked civil society groups to join the government’s public information campaign.

“My appeal is that we walk away with a commitment to send our statement of interest to participate in an ongoing collaboration on information as well as communication against Covid-19 so that we can create a platform that is going to be viable and that all of  us know that we can co-own the information,” said Mpumlwana.—Health-e News