Twitter orientation and digitalised medical outreach of transnational Nigerian doctors to the homeland during COVID-19
The unexpected problems that came with COVID-19 pushed the world, especially Africa, to the brink of insolvency. These challenges forced many governments to provide coping mechanisms and alternative solutions to ease the lives of their citizens. One such alternative is the open virtual connection of many countries with their diaspora. While the effect of COVID-19 burdened the lives of many Nigerians, transnational Nigerians contributed overwhelmingly to the management of the global pandemic. Specifically, the transnational Nigerian medical practitioners using virtual methodology became a centre of attention as information givers, orientation agents and aid contributors. Between March and August 2020 various insightful clarifications were made by these diasporic Nigerian-born medical practitioners on Twitter and other social media.
Virtual space and the arrival of digital doctors
The use of Twitter as the centre of engagement for transnational Nigerians and Nigerian locals has increased since the outbreak of the pandemic. Many transnational Nigerians created channels to contribute medical information on how to live during the global pandemic. The declaration of a nationwide lockdown created the need for Nigerians, especially for the working class and students, to explore various social media platforms. This avenue brought the transnational Nigerian medical doctors to the limelight, after seeing the challenges faced by local citizens. These doctors started posting COVID-19 specific matters on their accounts to complement their daily health-related content. Signalling a new dawn for transnational Nigerian medical doctors, they became the centre point for credible updates on COVID-19 and genuine practices to prevent its spread.
Who are these transnational medical experts and how did they become relevant in Nigeria’s health industry?
Nigerian transnational doctors live and practice outside Nigeria but maintain affiliations with the country through digital engagement with Nigerians at home. Prior to the global pandemic, these transnational Nigerian medical practitioners used social media to engage Nigerians on ways of proper health management, healthy eating, and other health-related information. These two Twitter handles, @DrOlufunmilayo and @wakawaka_doctor, are transnational Nigerian medical practitioners, and they practice medicine in the United Kingdom and New Zealand respectively. Before the occurrence of COVID-19, they used Twitter to give Nigerians daily health updates. They started becoming popular on Nigeria’s social media space in 2018 and by the end of 2019 they had become influential medical advisors on Twitter, with over 20,000 followers as of January 2020.
In the midst of the COVID-19 lockdown, following President Buhari’s March national broadcast announcing the total closure of the country’s economy, the majority of Nigerians were faced with unemployment, social instability, and depressing poverty. These, coupled with poor health infrastructure in the country, created multiple health problems for Nigerians. Similarly, the lack of government intervention, especially regarding the provision of efficient information, and the lack of access to medical doctors turned Nigerian doctors in the diaspora into health care guides. Using Twitter, Drs Olufunmilayo and Wakawaka used social remittances to contribute to the medical outreach to Nigerians in the country.
The impact of transnational doctors on COVID-19 management among Nigerians
Although some portions of the country’s population did not have access to their social media posts, filled with daily information on worldwide research and COVID-19 management policies adopted in Global North countries, the information put up by these medical doctors helped many Nigerians who lacked prior knowledge on the symptoms of the deadly disease and how to effectively manage the health situation.
The followers of these medical experts on Twitter grew rapidly as Nigerians began sharing their information on other social media, which encouraged more people to follow them for their updates. Many Nigerians evaluated the quality of the content brought by these doctors as very impactful towards their engagement with people. Interviewees Odunola and Usmanoff revealed that the transnational doctors’ messages on social media were very important to them. In her chat interview, Odunola explained that ‘Olufumilayo’s tweets helped me debunk several controversial assertions being carried out by many Nigerians on the treatment of COVID-19’. Usmanoff also said in a chat that ‘Dr Olufunmilayo and Dr Wakawaka were the first people to explain comprehensively to us the signs and symbols of COVID-19 and how to minimise the spreading of the disease once one is discovered to have those symptoms ahead of testing’. Comments under their Tweets similarly acknowledged their roles in the management of COVID-19, especially when many of the isolation centres in the country were filled to capacity and the virus was spreading amongst Nigerians. Two striking comments from one of Olufunmilayo’s tweets, posted by two Twitter users who tested positive for COVID-19 but treated themselves at home with his guidance having been referred by friends, further indicated the influence of the doctors’ social media posts and the wide acceptance of their information amongst Nigerians.
While these transnational Nigerians could not solve holistically the health challenges that emanated from COVID-19, they have critically provided important information needed by many Nigerians during the pandemic. This alternative strategy for solving health issues prior to and during the pandemic truncated amongst the elite the supposed outcry on inadequacies of health personnel in Nigeria.
Abdul-lateef Awodele is a PhD Student at the Diaspora and Transnational Studies unit, Institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan, Nigeria. He is also a research fellow at the Institute of French research in Africa. His research is centred on ethnic migration, diaspora and ethno-diaspora communities, border crossing, diaspora return and cultural participation.
This article is part of the issue ‘Empowering global diasporas in the digital era’, a collaboration between Routed Magazine and iDiaspora. The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) or Routed Magazine.