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Key findings
  • More than eight in 10 Gambians (82%) consider themselves “somewhat” or “very” well informed about the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • About two in 100 Gambians (2%) say a household member had become ill with COVID-19 as of early 2021, while four in 10 (42%) report that someone in the household had lost a job, business, or primary source of income as a result of the pandemic.
  • A majority of Gambians say they went without needed health care during the pandemic due to a lack of money (76%) or transportation (54%) or because of restrictions on movement (54%).
  • Three-fourths (74%) of Gambians say complying with lockdown restrictions was difficult, including 40% who describe it as “very difficult.” Even so, most (79%) consider the lockdown necessary to limit the spread of COVID-19 infection.
  • But views are divided (48% for, 49% against) regarding school closures, and citizens are almost unanimous (90%) in saying the school closures lasted too long.
  • Almost eight in 10 citizens (79%) say their households received pandemic-related assistance from the government.
  • Overall, the government receives good marks for its handling of the pandemic (60%) and the way it kept the public informed (75%).
  • Fewer than one-fourth (23%) of Gambians say they trust the government to ensure that COVID-19 vaccines are safe.
  • More than two-thirds (69%) of Gambians believe that prayer is more effective than a vaccine would be in preventing COVID-19 infection.
  • A majority of citizens say a pandemic does not justify government measures that infringe on democratic freedoms by censoring the media (62%) and postponing elections or limiting political campaigns (63%). But they support the government’s use of security forces to enforce public health mandates (63%).
  • Almost two-thirds (63%) of respondents also say they are worried that politicians in Gambia will use the pandemic as an opportunity to increase their power and authority.
  • Looking ahead, only two in 10 Gambians (22%) expect COVID-19 to be a “somewhat” or “very” serious problem for their country over the next six months. But a majority (60%) would prioritize funding to prepare for health emergencies like COVID19 over other health needs.

Within days after the Gambia registered its first coronavirus case on 17 March 2020, the government declared a state of public emergency. As the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths climbed, it closed the country’s airspace as well as sea and land borders, banned public gatherings, closed schools and universities, and instituted a night curfew to contain the spread of the virus (Darboe, 2020; Xinhua, 2020).

With the support of civil society organizations, philanthropists, and development partners, the government announced plans to mitigate the impact of the pandemic through food relief intended to help 84% of needy households, as well as support for Gambians studying abroad, additional equipment for the health sector, and fertilizer for farmers (Camara, 2020; Jawo, 2020).

On 10 March 2021, President Adama Barrow was first in line as the country launched its COVAX-supported vaccine rollout. The government plans to vaccinate 20% of the population in 2021 and has embarked on a campaign to inform the populace about vaccine safety (Africanews, 2021).

As of 25 April 2021, the country had reported 5,820 cases and 173 deaths due to COVID-19 (World Health Organization, 2021).

A new Afrobarometer survey in the Gambia shows that while a majority of citizens approve of the government’s overall response to the pandemic, they also voice significant concerns, including that the schools should have reopened more quickly and that government assistance to help citizens weather the pandemic was not distributed fairly. Most think that corrupt government officials stole resources intended for the pandemic response.

Most don’t trust the government to ensure that vaccines are safe, say they are unlikely to try to get vaccinated, and think prayer is more effective than a vaccine in preventing COVID- 19 infections.

Sait Matty Jaw

Sait Matty Jaw is the national investigator for Gambia

Charles Ebere

Lecturer in sociology and member of the Afrobarometer team for the<br /> Center for Policy, Research and Strategic Studies at the University of the Gambia