How Gates’ uninformed COVID-19 projection spiked misinformation— 5mins read
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On February 25, 2020, Bill Gates, a co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), claimed that Africa could be the worse hit by COVID-19.
His now ex-wife, Melinda Gates, also a co-chair at BMGF, in a CNN interview, said the developing world would be hard-hit. She noted that she foresaw bodies lying around in the streets of African countries.
More than one year after the pandemic hit the African continent, these claims and postulations are yet to see the light of the day.
A Public Health Expert and Executive Director of Project Pink BlueRuncie Chidebe said the postulation was made without any data and scientific backing.
He was shocked as a public health researcher and asked the evidence behind the data.
“It is easier to make projection with incidents and mortality when you have issues like cancer, a non-communicable disease, or infectious disease that you have a background data for. It is not accurate to hurriedly assume public health about the COVID-19 pandemic that scientists and researchers are still trying to find the trends. It is an epidemiological movement.”
However, he said Africa’s weak healthcare system was responsible for the quick projections and postulations of those who made them.
Away from the weak healthcare system in Africa, Chidebe said Gates did not consider other factors such as DNA, environment (weather), and aging because most African countries had a youthful population, and comorbidity was very low in Africa, particularly Nigeria.
Gates’ projection and waves of misinformation
Some public health experts have linked the uninformed postulation by Gates to numerous misinformation that went viral on different social media platforms.
“Because Melinda Gates made the statement in an interview and not in an academic journal that could have been scrutinised using a scientific approach, people will have different ways of interpreting and responding to the projection,” Chidebe said.
Public health practitioner at Asokoro General Hospital, Abuja, Ezeude Charles said: “As much as we are aware that the healthcare system in Africa is very weak, it will be so hasty to postulate that a particular number of deaths will occur in Africa. Covid-19 is a novel disease, and there was no data to show for cases and morbidity to have made inferences as at the time they made their projections.”
Ezeude also said it was difficult for him as a public health practitioner to believe the claims of Gates because they were not published in any public health journal or paper. “Researchers and scientists would have questioned the methodology for making that projection if it was in a journal, so that gave birth to different persons bringing up different theories against the covid-19 vaccines and not believing in its efficacy,” he said.
Prominent among the misinformation was the depopulation of Africa claim that was credited to Bill Gates.
Some Twitter users shared a 2019 video by Robert O. Young, a US naturopathic practitioner in January 2021.
Specifically, @KhotsoSefatsa’s tweet read, “Mandating vaccines is part of depopulation plan. Check Dr Robert O. Young testimony https://youtu.be*** #BillGates #CovidVaccine.”
Another tweet by @makumbi_k2 read, “Everyone who is against the vaccines which Bill Gates and his puppet Cyril Ramaphosa want to impose on us, please like and retweet this Tweet so that they know what they want to do to us #BillGates #VaccineforSouthAfrica.”
However, checks by The ICIR revealed that Gates did not make the claim alleged by Robert O. Young anywhere.
The Microsoft founder in the 29-minute, 32-second video discussed ways the world could reduce carbon emissions and suggested how global population growth would be reduced through improved healthcare and vaccinations. He was not speaking on reducing population, as alleged by Young in the video.
On numerous occasions, Governor of Kogi State Yahaya Bello made bogus claims about the coronavirus outbreak and lately discouraged vaccine use in the country.
In a widely circulated video, the governor was seen to be discouraging supporters present in the gathering from taking vaccines.
The governor, who did not provide any evidence to back up the claim made against the COVID-19 vaccine, said: “They want to use the COVID-19 vaccines to introduce the disease that will kill you and us. God forbid!”
Another misinformation came from Dino Melaye, a former senator and a member of the 8th Nigerian National Assembly who represented Kogi West Senatorial district.
Melaye had advised Nigerians and Africans not to accept the use of any COVID-19 vaccine.
“For 100 years now, we could not find a vaccine for cancer. For over 40 years, we are yet to find a vaccine for HIV/AIDS; for over another 100 years, research is still going on to find a vaccine for diabetes. How is it possible on earth, is it possible that in one year, you find a vaccine for COVID-19?”
“I am calling on African leaders not to allow Africans to be used as guinea pigs by developed nations for their satanic reasons,” he said in the video.
“We say no to the application of any vaccine in Africa. We call on the minister of health of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to immediately discontinue the interaction with those who want to give us vaccine.”
Melaye also claimed, without evidence, that some people who took that vaccine died within three days, thereby supporting the already debunked claim of Robert O. Young on the depopulation of Africa.
Nigeria’s former aviation minister Fani-Kayode,, also, on May 1, 2020, in a tweet, linked the House of Representatives controversial Infectious Diseases Bill to Gates.
Speaker of the House of Representatives Femi Gbajabiamila had, in May 2020, introduced a bill that sought to replace the Quarantine Act with a Control of Infectious Disease Act.
The contention surrounding the bill was regarding its provisions and the speedy passage it got from the House of Representatives.
In a series of tweets on the bill, Fani-Kayode alleged that the bill was a means of depopulating Africa, sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
He said, “I told you that the demons called Bill & Melinda Gates want to kill millions with their evil vaccine. Now a law is secretly being passed in your country that will make it compulsory for you to take a vaccine that will kill you like flies. Am I still just a conspiracy theorist?”
“Only a fool will believe that a man who believes in reducing the world’s population will produce a vaccine that will save the world. Then you say the vaccine is COMPULSORY? If Bill wants to reduce the population of the world let him start with his family and leave Africa alone,” he claimed.
However, on March 30, Fani-Kayode took COVID-19 vaccine after describing it as satanic.
A Nigerian journalist based in Kampala, Uganda, Caleb Okereke, said there was a considerable difference between an informed fear and an uninformed assumption, much of which the conversation surrounding the potential impact of COVID-19 on Africa so far seemed to have stemmed from.
Bill and Melinda Gates are not the only ones who predicted total doom in Africa. A report released by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), in April 2020, stated: “Anywhere between 300,000 and 3.3 million African people could lose their lives as a direct result of COVID-19.”
The prediction of millions of COVID-19 deaths in Africa may be difficult to reconcile with the present growth rate of confirmed cases and the fatalities arising from these cases. As of June 4, 2021, data from the ICIR COVID-19 Dashboard showed that 4,910,833 cases had been confirmed since the outbreak of the pandemic in Africa, with 131,638 deaths.
To put this into perspective, based on the lowest projection from UNECA and at the present growth rate of confirmed cases, Africa would need to record at least 11.1 million confirmed cases of the virus to be able to reach 300,000 deaths, and 122.1 million people will have to be infected on the continent for the UNECA projected 3.3 million deaths to come to reality.
Bill Gates had later said the world did not have enough data yet to understand why the numbers of COVID-19 pandemic deaths in Africa were not high as first predicted. He, however, said he was happy to have been wrong about his projection.
This publication was produced as part of IWPR’s Africa Resilience Network (ARN) programme in partnership with the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR) and the Centre for Information Resilience (CIR), and Africa Uncensored.