A new global survey on public attitudes to health and science reveals that people in Africa have greater trust in vaccines and take-up of vaccines than any other continent. Several African countries have among the highest confidence in vaccines worldwide.

The report shows that 87% of people on the continent strongly agree or somewhat agree that vaccines are safe; and 86% strongly or somewhat agree that they are effective. 95% of parents say that their children have received a vaccine to prevent childhood diseases.

The Wellcome Global Monitor is the biggest survey on public attitudes to health and science. In Africa it surveyed people in 40 countries, revealing how they feel about topics including confidence in science, healthcare systems, doctors, nurses, scientists, attitudes to vaccines and government, and how much the public believe science benefits people like them.

While the survey shows a positive picture on vaccine confidence in Africa, it also reveals a disconnect between people and the scientists or scientific institutions that are mandated to deliver on science and health.

  • Over a quarter (27%) of people have no confidence in hospitals and health clinics
  • 16 of the 20 countries where trust in doctors and nurses is weakest are in Africa
  • Less than one in five (17%) have high trust in scientists and more than half the population (55%) say they know little or nothing about science.
  • Only one third (33%) think the work scientists do benefits most people in their country

The survey findings for Africa were presented at a briefing at the World Economic Forum on Africa, held in Cape Town in September 2019.

Africa Health Research Institute’s (AHRI) Deputy Director, Professor Thumbi Ndung’u, joined a panel including Wellcome Trust Director Professor Jeremy Farrar, Dr Priya Agrawal – the MSD Managing Director, South Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa Cluster, and Dr Neema Kaseje, a surgeon with Médecins Sans Frontières, to discuss the Wellcome Global Monitor findings for Africa.

“I think on the good news side, the report shows there is some positive perception about science, and vaccines in particular, and their ability to change society and improve the quality of life in Africa. On the other hand, it is worrying that people see themselves as being excluded from the benefits of science, through the way we are doing science and the way it is being delivered. So, there’s a need to bridge that gap, to ensure that science has impact in communities. After all, that’s why we do science,” said Prof Ndung’u.  

“HIV and TB are our two biggest public health challenges in KwaZulu-Natal – and South Africa. What we have seen with the HIV epidemic in particular is a situation where the science has been ahead of the community in many ways. We have some solutions for this huge problem, but the uptake of these solutions has not been as great. So, there’s a disconnect between scientific advances we have made versus the uptake and acceptance of those advances by the communities that we work with,” he commented.  

“This obviously speaks to some of the issues that the Wellcome Global Monitor raises: making sure that we are not doing science that is separate and siloed from the community. It speaks to the need for us to engage with communities – right from when the science is being conceived, in terms of what kind of interventions we want to put in place in communities; right to when the research is being done to develop solutions – to continuously engage with communities and ask what is it that is likely to lead to acceptance and solutions to the problems. If we don’t do this, we will end up with solutions on the shelf – that people are not using. Unfortunately, we are seeing that with technologies designed to prevent HIV infection.”

*Read the full Wellcome Global Monitor continent overview here

Top photo: Prof Thumbi Ndung’u (far right) joins (l-r) Professor Jeremy Farrar, Dr Priya Agrawal and Dr Neema Kaseje on a panel to discuss the Wellcome Global Monitor findings at the World Economic Forum on Africa.