Meet Doctor Fundile Nyati: South Africa’s own online medical mythbuster

Doctor Fundile Nyati may not be on the physical frontline of the battle to contain the Covid-19 pandemic, but every day the employee health and wellness specialist takes the fight online, providing crucial information about the virus and busting myths surrounding it.

Nyati, 52, the chief executive of Proactive Health Solutions, broadcasts several times a day on four platforms — two Facebook pages; a dedicated website and YouTube — to help to inform South Africans about the virus.

He has also had guest doctors joining his show to address issues about the Covid-19 outbreak in a variety of South Africa’s 11 official languages — and in sign language — to assist in driving the message home to people whom the government’s official announcements in English do not reach.

Nyati, who has been in the employee health and wellness space since 1999, servicing mainly the public sector and parastatals — and, more recently, the private sector — had planned to roll out the media side of his business since 2012, but had been forced to put the initiative on hold.

“Since September last year we have been building a digital platform along with a technical engineer. We were about 80% through the process when Covid-19 came up. We felt it would be a valuable contribution to unpack this whole thing for people,” Nyati said in a telephone interview this week.

“When the Department of Health and other stakeholders speak about this, they don’t talk in accessible language. They [people] are expected to comply, but they don’t really understand. This is where we can play a role,” he said.

“The ignorance doesn’t end in the townships and rural areas. People who are really quite educated and okay still don’t understand things. What they tend to understand better is conspiracy theories,” Nyati said.

“The interventions are so, so necessary. A lot of our people, because they don’t have a deeper understanding of what Covid-19 is about, are in denial,” he said.

“South Africans still have a victim mentality, a belief that somebody has done this to us. There is a mistrust of things from the West … a fertile ground for conspiracy theories where people don’t really trust the government and myths are everywhere.”

On Monday, Nyati hosted German medical specialists to compare the approach to fighting Covid-19 in South Africa, Germany and Taiwan and sent out several messages busting myths about vaccination; medical trials involving Covid-19 and updates on local initiatives to begin producing ventilators and other crucial equipment locally.

All of Nyati’s broadcasts are available for social-media distribution within five minutes of being aired simultaneously on all four platforms. The website archives the broadcasts and also provides material from the Mayo Clinic and Health-e News. All of the broadcasts are free to access, although Nyati is looking at how to monetise his work when the pandemic is over.

The lockdown had created a “captive audience” for both the conspiracy theorists and for medical professionals who were willing to go online and engage, he said.

“I’m making use of idle time due to the lockdown. It is important to look for interesting angles around Covid-19; not just the disease, but its broader impact on the economy [and] society,” he said.

“For now, I see this as being my contribution to the fight against Covid-19. I’m not at the forefront like my colleagues out there, but in this way I can still do something to assist,” he said.

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