Kenya: Dispelling Myths About Vaccines and Male Virility

Mombasa reporter describes how solid research and frank conversations can combat Covid-19 disinformation.

Kenya: Dispelling Myths About Vaccines and Male Virility

Mombasa reporter describes how solid research and frank conversations can combat Covid-19 disinformation.

IWPR trainee and contributor Athuman Luchi.
IWPR trainee and contributor Athuman Luchi.

A rumour that Covid-19 vaccines causes erectile dysfunction, infertility and generally damages male potency has become a big issue in Mombasa, where I’m based, and across the coastal area of Kenya. A lot of men in the rural areas believe these false rumours, leading to vaccine hesitancy.

The story has spread online, mostly via WhatsApp Groups and Facebook, and also by word-of-mouth at public gatherings.

Being able to spot misinformation disguised as legitimate news enables journalists to combat the widespread distribution of harmful, misleading and false information.

The ongoing coronavirus outbreak has triggered an unprecedented financial and economic crisis - many people here on the coast depend on fishing and small-scale farming in order to feed their families - and bringing tremendous uncertainty to all sides of human life.

It has also led to the spread of disinformation and misinformation, with many rumours about coronavirus spreading on social media platforms. Investigating the erectile dysfunction story, I heard that drinking black tea cures coronavirus, that those who were vaccinated will die after two years, and disinformation that those with sickle cell disease cannot get Covid-19 and many more.

To debunk the erectile dysfunction story, I carried out my research using open-source intelligence (OSINT) research which I’d learnt as part of the Africa Resilience Network Project (ARN). I particularly focused on video research tools and reverse images searches in order to find out the information being shared was false.

In WhatsApp groups, I identified those who were vaccinated and those who are not.  I then decided to interview men who are opposed to the vaccine, as well as those who were vaccinated, in order to find out if the myths were real. The men who were vaccinated made it clear that the rumour that Covid-19 vaccine causes erectile dysfunction is false, because their erectile status is intact. I also got the doctors' side on the story and they proved that there is no medical evidence that the vaccine causes erectile dysfunction.

I decided to become a reporter so as to live life with a curious nature, to disseminate information and to shape the public perception of key figures, places and events. I still want to develop my communication research and investigative skills, and OSINT skills can be used to debunk fake news.

Being able to spot misinformation disguised as legitimate news enables journalists to combat the widespread distribution of harmful, misleading and false information.

I now apply these skills on a daily basis in my work as an online editor, news anchor and news sub-editor at Radio Rahma, based in Mombasa.

The economic crisis and uncertainty caused by the pandemic has hit the journalism sector too. Many media houses are facing a lack of advertising, hence leading to salary delays and redundancies. Many radio stations are closing down.

But journalism is an essential part of a functioning society, and we are especially needed now to identify fake news and ensure reporting is fair and accurate. 

With the OSINT skills I learned with ARN, I will make sure that I can verify all misinformation, and will also will teach fellow journalists so as to build a strong network that will fact check the spread of misinformation in our country.

My plan is to start making radio programs to inform society about the dangers of misinformation and disinformation so that more people will become aware of the fake news spread on a daily basis in my country.

This publication was produced as part of IWPR’s Africa Resilience Network (ARN) programme, administered in partnership with the Centre for Information Resilience (CIR), the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR), and Africa Uncensored.

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