Last week I held a meeting with the workers on my farm about some health and medical issues. Most of these workers are around twenty years of age and have a limited primary-level education. They are contract workers, paid by the task such as picking coffee, slashing, planting seedlings, or potting out in the nursery. They live locally, so the income they get from the farm supplements what they make from their own small farms.
The group I talked to were mainly young men, but a number of young girls were also present. My subject was sex and reproductive health, which was easy for me to approach from a medical point of view, and I seemed to have their attention. I told them the risks of unprotected sex – sexually transmitted infections, including HIV and gonorrhea, plus unplanned pregnancy. I informed them that the teenage pregnancy rate in Uganda is very high and is a major contributing factor to the high maternal mortality, in other words pregnancy is a risky business for a young girl. I also asked the boys if they were ready to take responsibility for a child.
I had visited one of the hospitals in Fort Portal and been supplied with a large box of condoms which we make available to the workers, so I talked to them about how to use a condom correctly, and the fact that condoms are the best way to protect against sexually transmitted diseases and unplanned pregnancy. The group listened attentively, and when I asked for questions one young man said he had heard that the lubricant on condoms caused cancer.
The young people I was talking to were poorly educated and are fertile ground for rumours and superstition because they have little understanding of the scientific method or how to verify facts. We know that condoms have been rigorously tested and do not cause cancer but when someone simply says ‘I hear that they cause cancer’ to a community who has no scientific education, this may seem to be a legitimate concern.
It occurred to me that many people in the world today are in the same category. If a rumour goes round Facebook about some extreme conspiracy theory such as a ring of pedophiles controls the Democratic Party, what is to stop people believing it? This particular conspiracy theory has now become embedded as QAnon with a supporter, Marjorie Taylor Greene, having been elected to the American House of Representatives in this election. If people have no basis for truth or facts, if they do not apply statistical or scientific methods to verify what they are being told, they are like the boy on my farm who simply says ‘I hear that ….’ and gives any rumour equal standing with the truth. Communities that are parochial and lacking in education are extremely susceptible to this kind of manipulation.
As we watch what is going on in the USA from afar, we are scandalized at the lies that are being fed to people and the ignorance of those who lap them up. We thought that the most advanced civilization in the world would not be susceptible to this kind of thing, but it appears the opposite is true. But at home many Ugandans are still poorly educated and do not understand the basis of science, or good health practices or even modern agricultural methods. We need to educate our young people so that they are able to build their lives on facts which will help them to grow and develop, rather than leaving them in ignorance, susceptible to rumours and superstitions which will simply result in us remaining a backward nation.
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