cartoon of people in rural Africa physically distancing

BURKINA FASO  – Over the last 6 months, DMI has been contributing to the global fight against the COVID-19 pandemic by broadcasting radio, TV and social media campaigns in 8 Sub-Saharan African countries.

In Burkina Faso, we have been broadcasting radio spots and interactive call-in shows on key behavioural messages relating to COVID-19. We also created a short animation that explains the importance of physical distancing which we translated into popular local Burkinabé languages Mooré, Dioula and Fulfuldé, as well as French. The animation is being broadcast on national TV stations and has been posted on social media. On the Burkina Faso Ministry of Health’s Facebook page, the French version of the animation has over 3 million views, over 29,000 likes, more than 1,000 comments, and over 20,000 shares. To gain more insight into people’s perceptions of the virus and their attitudes to social distancing, DMI’s research team in Burkina Faso conducted a thematic analysis of the Facebook comments.

Our analysis included categorising 1577 comments, from which we found six main themes:

  1. Support for the animations and the belief that they were important for preventing COVID-19.
  2. Doubt about the existence or severity of the virus, or belief that it was created only for financial gain of those in power.
  3. The importance of physical distancing as well as its challenges. These challenges included the difficulty of distancing in traffic, crowded spaces and large households.
  4. The belief that African and Western politicians who don’t follow the guidance relating to COVID-19 reinforce disbelief and doubts about virus prevention.
  5. The belief that the animation was a tool for the government to spread fear of the disease.
  6. The topic of herd immunity, and the idea that by enacting social distancing we prevent each other from developing antibodies and become dependent on vaccines.

« Oufs ! Propagande !! Afrique n’écoutez pas ceci s’il vous plaît ! En plus le virus ne supporte pas la chaleur, alors pas de danger pour vous ! » (“Madmen! Propaganda!! Africa, don’t listen to this please! The virus does not survive the heat, so no danger for you!”)

Some of the comments echoed common myths we have found in our formative research on knowledge, attitudes and perceptions of COVID-19 in Burkina Faso. Myths and beliefs have been found to have a negative impact on compliance with prevention measures such as physical distancing, hand washing or wearing a face mask. The sixth theme – that people thought we should be spreading the virus in order to gain herd immunity – indicates a need for effective behaviour change communications that address uncertainties and misinformation around herd immunity as well as around vaccines.

Ultimately, the findings from this analysis suggest there is a need to further investigate the myths and misconceptions surrounding COVID-19. We plan to collect more information through a large-scale phone survey we are conducting in Burkina Faso in partnership with Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA). We will use the information from the analysis of the Facebook comments and the phone survey to keep adapting and improving our COVID-19 messages. Stay tuned for further updates!