Terrified parents rushed to pick up their children from school in Bukavu in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) on the morning of February 25. Although the authorities quickly denied any such plan, our observers say that this is just one example of the deep mistrust of the Covid-19 vaccine in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Disinformation led to complete chaos at several schools in Bukavu. A video, which was shared with the JowharObservers team and posted on Facebook on February 25, shows students and parents running down the hall of the Kasali elementary school institute earlier that morning:
Our observer, Dieumerci Mbumba, who lives in Bukavu, shared this video with us. He went to the institute’s Kasali school on the morning of February 25 and witnessed the scene.
The same chaotic scenes took place in several schools around the city, including the Kasali Institute.
Both the schools and local health officials immediately received the rumors and stated that there was no forced vaccination campaign according to the Congolese fact-checking website Congo Check. On the same day, Dr. Claude Bahizire, who is in charge of communications for the regional health department, or DPS, said on maternity radio that there were no Covid-19 vaccination campaigns in southern Kivu.
“There was no way to continue with the lessons; it was a storm ”
Jowharobservers spoke to Gilles Kabungulu, a teacher at the Kasali Institute. He described the complete chaos that engulfed the school.
By 8 o’clock on Thursday, there were already a dozen parents gathered at the gates demanding to pick up their children. They said the vaccinators had arrived and would forcibly vaccinate their children against Covid-19.
We reassured them and said that there would be no vaccinations and that we had not heard from the authorities about a Covid-19 vaccine. But around 9 or 10 o’clock a lot of parents forced open the gate and invaded the school to pick up their children. We had to take the children out because there was no way to continue with the lessons. it was a storm.
Caption: This video was published on Facebook by Radio Okapi on February 25th.
Kabungulu said children are never vaccinated at school without their parents’ permission.
When there are vaccination campaigns, for example against polio or measles, we write a note to the parents in the student’s notebook [Editor’s note: In many schools across the French speaking world, each student has a notebook, or a carnet de correspondance, which the teacher and parents use to correspond regarding absences, grades and permissions, among other things]. Only children whose parents have agreed are vaccinated. The others are not.
He regrets the high distrust of the vaccination.
Everything is hearsay. With Covid-19, everyone is scared. People are especially afraid of vaccines, they say they will contaminate them. At school, we ask children not to be afraid of vaccines.
SUD_KIVU: Panic this morning in Bukavu following a rumor about the vaccine against # Covid19. We are at school …
Published by Tarcis Sangala on Thursday, February 25, 2021
According to this post from February 25, the panic among the parents coincided with the arrival of health workers who were to teach the children about preventing the spread of Covid-19.
“People are suspicious and afraid of diseases we do not know much about, such as Ebola or Covid-19”
JowharObservers spoke with Adolphe Nyakasane, a pediatrician at CIRIRI Hospital in Bukavu. He also founded the NGO Kesho Congo, which fights malnutrition, but has also worked to improve health education during the pandemic. In his work, he has seen that people are often poorly informed about the dangers of Covid-19:
Here in southern Kivu and in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in general, many do not think that Covid-19 is a real disease – they think it was made in a laboratory. People are suspicious and afraid of diseases we do not know much about, such as Ebola or Covid-19. And when there are vaccines against a disease, some believe they are actually being used to sterilize women or exterminate all Africans.
These theories are often spread by charlatans or self-appointed pastors. Some of them have bad intentions, while others are just uneducated and misinformed. Some people try to make money by creating panic.
In 2019, our team investigated the similarly widespread rumors about the fight against Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Many communication failures from the teams sent in to respond to the crisis, as well as lack of campaigns to raise awareness about Ebola, sowed further mistrust. The fact that the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo is stuck in conflict also contributed to the climate of fear and suspicion.
NGO Kesho Congo, which focuses on combating malnutrition, is also working to raise awareness of Covid-19 by handing out masks and teaching people to take precautions such as washing their hands.
The Bukavu incident came just days after schools were reopened in the Democratic Republic of Congo on February 22, after being closed for two months in an attempt to control the Covid-19 pandemic. A total of 707 people have died from Covid-19 in the Democratic Republic of Congo since March 2020. About 109 new cases of the virus are now reported daily.
The Democratic Republic of Kong took over the rotating President of the African Union on 6 February. Congolese President Félix Tshisekedi, acting AU chairman, said he would make primary care and vaccinations the “key pillars” in his fight against Covid-10. The DRC is one of the countries that will benefit from the Covax initiative run by the World Health Organization (WHO), which aims to help low-income countries gain access to Covid-19 vaccines. The WHO has promised to deliver 500 million doses to the countries in the program this summer.