Medical alumnus and Rhodes scholar-elect, Dr Kapil Narain is the first author of an article in the Journal for Global Health, Epidemiology and Genomics.
Unsupervised, Narain led a team of Medical students and Medical graduates from eight African countries.
Based on COVID-19 information on YouTube, the study analysed the quality and reliability of 562 videos as a source of public health information in 11 widely-spoken languages in Africa, including English, isiZulu, isiXhosa, Afrikaans, Nigerian Pidgin, Hausa, Twi, Arabic, Amharic, French, and Swahili.
YouTube (a freely available, easy-to-use, Internet video-sharing platform with more than two billion users) is the second most popular website globally, with over a billion hours of video watched daily. It was widely utilised as a source of medical information in previous outbreaks and pandemics. Although the information on this platform is questionable due to personal opinions, anecdotes, blind authorship, and a lack of credible sources, it is still widely popular and trusted by viewers.
Narain said, ‘On 21 January 2022, Google Trends indicated that the most searched topic on YouTube for the past 12 months, worldwide, was the coronavirus pandemic. A few studies have evaluated the quality and reliability of COVID-19 information on YouTube but there is a paucity of research focusing on languages in Africa.’
The study found that the most prevalent type of information reported in the videos was on transmission whilst content covering screening or testing was reported in less than a third. The majority of videos were classified as informative with over 229 million views, while misleading videos constituted 2.13% of the total but had the highest like: dislike ratio.
Furthermore, government videos had the highest score for prevalence and transmission. Academic institutions/hospitals’ videos recorded the highest scores for clinical symptoms, screening/testing, and treatment/outcomes and news agencies reported the lowest score for transmission and the lowest proportion of videos covering transmission and clinical symptoms.
The study also found decreased digital support from users for government videos, which suggests a lack of confidence and trust. This is supported by a report that indicated that most African citizens did not trust their governments to provide accurate information about case counts and mortalities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The investigators felt that the widespread use of YouTube as a source of accurate and reliable information needs to be further explored and recommended that public health agencies should collaborate with various YouTube content producers, particularly, influential independent users; a qualified organisation should be established with the mandate to vet health-related videos before they are uploaded on YouTube to prevent the publishing of poor quality videos and health-related YouTube videos should be subjected to rapid review by health experts.
Narain is a multi-award-winning youth leader, One Young World ambassador, one of the Mail & Guardian’s Top 200 Young South Africans and an Abe Bailey Fellow. At the end of 2022, he was awarded the prestigious Rhodes scholarship to study at Oxford University in 2023 where he intends to read for a DPhil on Clinical Medicine.
The study was also presented at the 24th Association of Medical Councils of Africa (AMCOA) International Conference hosted by the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) at Sun City in October 2022.
Narain commented, ‘It is critical that we fight the scourge of misinformation in healthcare. It was an absolute pleasure mentoring this fantastic Pan-African group of young aspiring academics. I intend to expand my efforts in mentorship so that we can develop the next generation of clinician-scientists on the continent.’
Link to the study: https://www.hindawi.com/journals/gheg/2023/1406035/.
Words: MaryAnn Francis