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rumours

Rumours and misinformation 

Rumours and misinformation are frequent during disease outbreaks and longer-term public health interventions, such as vaccine campaigns. The spread of rumours and misinformation are among the biggest concerns for risk communications officers. Traditionally, rumours are seen through the lens of epidemiology and responded to using epidemiological tools.  This includes the surveillance of rumours, the identification of their meaning, monitoring new rumours and attempting to counter them by spreading “accurate” information to minimize/or combat them.

Social science research thinks about rumours very differently. During outbreaks we know that rumours can be a source of information about people’s concerns, understandings and perceptions of disease and its management.  For social scientists, listening to and exploring the concerns that lie behind rumours is a valuable entry point for disease control. Rumours can be caused by the apparatus that is being used to control the spread of disease and the ways that information is given to people, so listening to rumours can be important for improving the way in which health campaigns are delivered. Moreover, much social science research on rumours related to science and medicine in Africa has shown that rumors are often connected with past experiences including concerns over governmental control and abuse; problematic power relations between the state, communities, and individuals; inequitable resource extraction, colonial and post-colonial enterprises of various kinds; and previous medical interventions that have been experienced as dangerous or unethical. Listening to rumours is a way of taking these experiences seriously and designing interventions that are sensitive to particular historical and political contexts.

 

Resources

Speaking with vampires: Rumor and history in colonial Africa

This book presents and interprets vampire stories from East and Central Africa as a way of understanding the world as the storytellers did. Using gossip and rumour as historical sources in their own right, it assesses the place of such evidence, oral and written, in historical reconstruction.

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Popular concerns about medical research projects in sub-Saharan Africa – a critical voice in debates about medical research ethics

This resource aims to move beyond the dismissal of stories about blood-stealing and trade in body parts as ‘mere’ rumour, based on erroneous belief or traditional superstition, and to instead appreciate them as modern commentaries on social relations that involve, and extend far beyond, scientific medical research.

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On the origin of Ebola: Biomedical discourse versus popular interpretations in Macenta in Guinea

This resource describes the use of participative observation, informal conversations and in-depth interviews to identify rumours surrounding Ebola, their sources, and to understand the local population’s perception and knowledge about the history and origin of the Ebola outbreak in Guinea. 

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Power, fairness and trust : understanding and engaging with vaccine trial participants and communities in the setting up the EVOVAC-Salone vaccine trial in Sierra Leone

In this article the authors discuss the implementation of an Ebola vaccine trial in Kambia district in Sierra Leone during and after the epidemic. They analyze the role of social science research for the development of community engagement strategies. The authors give special attention to the analysis of rumours as source of information and explanation about resistance rooted in a much deeper sociopolitical context.

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Ebola: Limitations of correcting misinformation

In this resource, members of the Ebola Response Anthropology Platform call on all organisations involved in the response to the Ebola outbreak to question the assumption that biomedicine must correct local logics and concerns, and the effectiveness of using standardised advice for non-standardised situations.

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