Having virtual meetings is the new normal. Moderating a virtual roundtable dressed in a t-shirt and a chitenge? I guess that is the new normal too.
I was dressed in exactly that, while moderating a recent roundtable with my co-moderator Pretty Thogo, operations director for the Youth Alliance for Leadership and Development in Africa (YALDA). More than 100 young Africans, from Nigeria to Ethiopia, Togo to Congo, Ghana to Botswana joined us from the comfort of their homes to attend the first World Bank Africa Youth Transforming Africa-YALDA roundtable to learn more about COVID-19 (coronavirus) and how we as young Africans can identify trusted health sources on the internet.
As the number of COVID-19 infections continue to rise in Africa, we are concerned about the pandemic and its impact on our countries. For Africa’s youth to be part of the solution, we need to be empowered with knowledge. This is why such roundtables are a platform for young Africans to educate each other and share the right information.
I remember reading about COVID-19 on a local online media house some time in January, and the virus seemed so far away from Lusaka, and even further from my residential area. That is until one Wednesday in March when our Health Minister announced of the first two cases of COVID-19 in Zambia. I recall how life had swiftly changed that week, from seeing many children going to school in their uniforms to seeing no child going to school at all. From working together in the office to working alone at home. From sitting in a room together for a meeting to having only online meetings.
While all this change was happening, I was so worried about many things. And one of my concerns was my own lack of enough information on COVID-19. I decided to start reading information online but I was becoming overwhelmed with the news. My WhatsApp kept buzzing with forwarded messages and voice notes of news on COVID-19 from friends. Some of it was true, some of it clearly false. Other information, I wasn’t so sure about.
From the roundtable, I have been empowered with knowledge to share with my friends on how to identify trusted health sources on the internet by considering the source, checking the author, reading beyond, checking the date of the news and asking experts.
One point that stood out for me during the roundtable is how social behavioral change is such a game changer in the fight against COVID-19. As young Africans, we really need to change our social behavior—by washing our hands, social distancing, avoiding alcohol abuse, eating healthier and indeed following all guidelines provided by our health experts. It was also very useful and fascinating for me to learn about the myths and facts surrounding COVID-19 which was well elaborated by Dr. Christabel Ngwashi, an early career medical doctor. For example, she said eating ginger or garlic or drinking hot water is definitely just a myth and not a cure for COVID-19.
As a young African living in such strange times, it is very important for me to continue to be a leader in my community by sharing the right information through blogs, social media posts or simply by word of mouth, (of course while observing social distancing). It is also very important for my fellow young Africans who are scientists to contribute to research and development in the fight against COVID-19 in Africa. Likewise, governments in Africa must invest in research and development to support young scientists.