Testing is central to the fight against the novel coronavirus, which has infected several millions and killed hundreds of thousands of people across the world. And with the fragile nature of health systems in Africa, the capacity of countries in the continent to promptly test people for the virus to curtail its spread has become a major talking point globally.
The project checks the veracity of a claim by Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo that the African nation had administered more COVID-19 tests per million people than any other country on the continent.
1. My fact-checking report triggered an important national discussion in Ghana (which later metamorphosed into a continental debate) about COVID-19 testing capabilities of African countries.
Details of the report were widely reported by major media organisations (radio, television and online), particularly in Ghana, including:
2. The report helped Ghanaians to hold President Nana Akufo-Addo and his cabinet members to account for spreading false information. It reignited the #KickNanaOut hashtag on social media, making the slogan the top trending topic on Twitter in Ghana on May 16, 2020. #KickNanaOut is a hashtag used by government critics in the West African country to criticise the shortcomings of President Akufo-Addo’s administration. This was covered by multiple news outlets:
Ghana Web: https://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/NewsArchive/KickNanaOut-AFP-expos-triggers-anti-Akufo-Addo-campaign-on-social-media-954250
Ghana Trending: https://ghtrending.online/59/291721/17/04/2020/05/17/kicknanaout-afp-expos-triggers-anti-akufo-addo-campaign-on-social-media/
3. The report raised the voices of Ghanaians and other Africans who had doubts about the president’s claim but could not conduct verification or did not have the platform to disprove him.
4. Ghana’s Deputy Health Minister Bernard Okoe-Boye and the country’s COVID-19 Risk Communication Director Dr. Dacosta Aboagye both reacted to the fact-checking report.
When television host Emefa Apawu queried the government officials over the false claim, Okoe-Boye did not admit Ghana was leading Africa in COVID-19 testing. He, however, used a different metric (tests per thousand) to explain that the country was “part of the first three” countries leading the continent in COVID-19 testing.
Deputy Health Minister Bernard Okoe-Boye’s interview was featured here: https://www.myjoyonline.com/news/national/okoe-boye-reacts-to-afp-report-on-covid-19-testing-in-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=okoe-boye-reacts-to-afp-report-on-covid-19-testing-in-africa
Aboagye said “whether the president said this or that… is not, but let’s look at the positives from what we have actually achieved as a country.”
Risk Communication Director Dr. Dacosta Aboagye’s interview was featured here: https://www.myjoyonline.com/news/national/covid-19-discussion-should-move-from-afp-fact-check-of-akufo-addo-dr-aboagye-urges/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=covid-19-discussion-should-move-from-afp-fact-check-of-akufo-addo-dr-aboagye-urges
My report used findings (including the solution) from data collated from the six countries and presented the information in a tabular form on Google Spreadsheets. The table ranks Ghana behind South Africa, Mauritius and Djibouti in COVID-19 testing per million people as of May 10, 2020, which goes contrary to President Akufo-Addo’s claim.
First, the claim was tested against the available evidence by defining COVID-19 “tests per million people”. The number of COVID-19 tests per million people conducted by any country is calculated by dividing the country’s number of COVID-19 tests by its total population, and then multiplying the result by one million.
To obtain this figure, two parameters were used to test the claim against the available evidence: a country’s total population and the number of COVID-19 tests conducted.
But since there was no readily available data on the number of COVID-19 tests conducted for all the 54 countries on the African continent at the time of publication, and since we only needed to find out whether there was at least one African country with higher COVID-19 tests per million people than Ghana, we decided to compare Ghana with five other African countries — Nigeria, South Africa, Botswana, Djibouti, and Mauritius — with publicly accessible data on the two parameters.
COVID-19 testing numbers were obtained from the national health authorities of these countries, while population figures were sourced from national statistics offices and the United Nations.
What was the hardest part of this project?
The hardest part of this project was collating Covid-19 testing data of countries considered in the project, and also presenting it in a digestible format.
I think the project should be selected because of its uniqueness. President Akufo-Addo made the claim amid the COVID-19 pandemic when effective testing, contact tracing and isolation of infected cases were deemed crucial to curtail the spread of the virus. Also, the false claim was made just a few months ahead of Ghana’s 2020 presidential election where Akufo-Addo seeks reelection against the former president and his critic John Mahama.
What can others learn from this project?
Attention to details! I read the president’s speech with utmost skepticism and found some of his assertions to be inaccurate. This could have gone unchecked if I had not paid such attention to the key statements and it is important for journalists not just to reports what public officers say but to ensure these statements are factually accurate, and a way of doing this is to constantly check for the veracity of the assertions before we inform our audience. This would improve public trust on media reports and hold the public officers accountable for their words.