Public Access to Information is the difference between life and death: central to combat COVID-19

The outbreak of coronavirus and the disease causes created anxiety, fear, and confusion. These are not misplaced. Hundreds of thousands have been infected while tens of thousands have lost their lives. Jobs have been lost, economies are breading and health infrastructure is overstretched. Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC) covid-19 tracker shows that as of today more than 101, 584 patients have recovered from the disease.

Fake news on the prevention, spread, and control of COVID-19 is widespread and has undermined efforts to curb the spread of the disease in Africa.

Timely access to information and timely action on information received can make the difference- the difference between life and death!  People are desperate to get information that can save their lives and those of loved ones. In Uganda for example, a woman who recently returned from a business trip Dubai and suspects to have been exposed to the infection ran to Mulago hospital was turned away. She has turned to social media and is desperate for life-saving information and services. She is not alone. Millions are in Africa are in her situation.

Timely access to Information is the difference between life and death yet 30 of the continent’s 54 countries don’t have access to information laws, in spite of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16.10.2. At the same time, many African countries with access to information laws still struggle to implement them.

We urge governments across the African continent to proactively disclose information on the prevention and management of covid-19. This should include local languages and tools that are accessed by women and people with disabilities.

Governments should also put in place effective measures to respond to information requests- including questions raised through social media and other online platforms.

Leaders should lead by example. In Cameroon, the Speaker of the National Assembly who recently returned from a high-risk country is reported to have used his position and influence to breach protocols for screening and quarantine, risking the lives of millions. The same is said of members of parliament, ministers and army generals in Uganda. We call for responsible and exemplary leadership from everyone in order to save lives.

At AFIC we have a legacy of responsible business and are committed to contributing to the noble cause of keeping everyone safe. We have suspended all activities that involve people gathering and will be using online platforms. We are scaling up campaigns to urge governments to strengthen access to information as an effective measure to address the problem.

We urge you and everyone to wash your hands frequently, maintain social distance, avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth and practice respiratory hygiene. In case one feels fever, tiredness, and dry cough, please contact health authorities in your country using telephone contacts that have been provided.

Stay calm, stay safe, stay informed.

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