Ghana, like many nations, has witnessed an unprecedented surge in social media usage. While these digital platforms have undoubtedly brought people together, fostered connectivity and democratised information, there is a growing concern about the negative impact they may be having on public health. From the spread of misinformation to the toll on mental well-being, the repercussions of unchecked social media use are beginning to cast a shadow on Ghana’s overall public health landscape.
- The misinformation superhighway
Arguably, one of the gravest challenges posed by social media in Ghana is the rampant spread of health-related misinformation. False claims about miracle cures, dubious treatments, and unverified health advice circulate at an alarming rate – often reaching a vast audience before authorities can intervene. This misinformation can lead to misguided health decisions, the neglect of traditional remedies, and a general erosion of public trust in established healthcare systems.
Health experts and professionals express their deep concerns, emphasising the urgency of addressing this issue. “Misinformation on social media can be deadly,” warns a public health expert. “We’ve seen cases where individuals rely on unproven remedies, leading to worsened health conditions and, sometimes, even fatalities. It’s a public health crisis that demands urgent attention.”
Governments, healthcare providers and regulatory bodies are grappling with the challenge of curbing the spread of false information. In Ghana, efforts are being made to educate the public on discerning reliable health information from unverified claims. Digital literacy campaigns are being rolled out, encouraging citizens to critically evaluate the information they encounter on social media platforms.
- Mental health strain
While social media platforms are designed to connect people and provide a space for self-expression, they also harbour a darker side that significantly impacts mental health. Cyber-bullying, online harassment and the constant exposure to idealised lifestyles can contribute to anxiety, depression and feelings of inadequacy. In a society where mental health discussions are only just gaining momentum, the negative effects of social media cannot be underestimated.
Psychiatrists and mental health professionals are witnessing a concerning rise in mental health issues, particularly among the younger demographic. “We’re witnessing a rise in mental health issues, particularly among the younger demographic,” notes a psychiatrist based in Accra. “The pressure to conform to societal ideals perpetuated on social media, combined with the toxicity of online interactions, is taking a toll on the mental well-being of Ghanaians.”
Efforts are underway to address this mental health crisis exacerbated by social media. Awareness campaigns, led by mental health organisations and influencers, aim to destigmatise mental health issues and provide resources for those in need. Public figures are joining the conversation to emphasise the importance of digital detox and mental well-being, urging individuals to balance their online and offline lives.
- Deterioration of traditional health practices
We, Ghanaians, have a rich tapestry of traditional health practices that have been integral to the well-being of its people for centuries. However, the pervasive influence of social media, often promoting westernised health trends, poses a threat to these time-tested practices. The younger generation, enamoured by online health influencers, may be swayed away from traditional remedies, jeopardising a holistic approach to healthcare deeply rooted in Ghanaian culture.
Traditional healers and practitioners express their concerns about the gradual erosion of ancestral health knowledge. “Our traditional health practices are being disregarded in favour of trends promoted on these digital platforms,” laments a traditional healer in Kumasi. “We must find a way to balance modernity with our rich cultural heritage to ensure the well-being of our people.”
Efforts are being made to bridge the gap between traditional and modern healthcare practices. Collaborative initiatives between healthcare providers, traditional healers and community leaders seek to preserve Ghana’s rich health heritage while adapting to contemporary challenges. Integrating traditional practices into mainstream healthcare discussions aims to create a more inclusive and culturally sensitive approach to public health.
- Rise of lifestyle diseases
As social media permeates every aspect of life, there is a noticeable increase in lifestyle diseases in Ghana. The relentless promotion of unhealthy dietary habits, sedentary lifestyles, and unrealistic body standards on these platforms contributes to the rise in conditions such as obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.
Nutritionists and public health experts warn of the long-term consequences. “Social media is shaping our dietary choices and physical activity patterns, and not necessarily in a positive way,” cautions a nutritionist at the University of Cape Coast. “The consequences are evident in the rising prevalence of lifestyle diseases, which pose a significant burden on our healthcare system.”
Addressing this issue requires a multi-faceted approach. Nutrition education campaigns, spearheaded by both public and private sectors, aim to promote healthier lifestyle choices. Additionally, influencers and celebrities are being encouraged to use their platforms to endorse healthy living and debunk harmful dietary trends.
- Addressing the issue
Recognising the urgent need to mitigate the negative impact of social media on public health, stakeholders in Ghana are taking proactive measures.
- Digital literacy programmes
Educational institutions and non-governmental organisations are collaborating to implement digital literacy programmes that equip Ghanaians with the skills to critically evaluate health information online. By fostering a culture of scepticism and discernment, these programmes aim to empower individuals to make informed health decisions.
- Regulatory oversight
The government is exploring regulatory frameworks to monitor and manage health-related content on social media. By working in tandem with platform providers, Ghana seeks to curb the spread of misinformation and promote responsible online behaviour. This includes enforcing penalties for those found guilty of spreading false health information.
- Promotion of mental health awareness
Mental health advocacy is gaining momentum, with campaigns aimed at destigmatising mental health issues and providing resources for those in need. Public figures and influencers are joining the conversation to emphasise the importance of digital detox and mental well-being. This includes collaborations with mental health professionals to provide online counselling services.
- Integration of traditional and modern healthcare
Efforts are underway to bridge the gap between traditional and modern healthcare practices. Collaborative initiatives between healthcare providers, traditional healers, and community leaders seek to preserve Ghana’s rich health heritage while adapting to contemporary challenges. This includes educational programmes to raise awareness about the value of traditional practices in conjunction with modern healthcare.
While social media in Ghana has undoubtedly brought about positive changes, the negative impact on public health cannot be overlooked. Addressing this multi-faceted issue requires a collective effort from the government, healthcare professionals, educators and the community. By fostering digital literacy, regulating content, promoting a holistic approach to health, and preserving traditional practices, Ghana can navigate the challenges posed by social media and pave the way for a healthier, more informed society.