From Cairo to the Cape, from Senegal to South Sudan, all across the length and breadth of Africa, people make decisions, big and small, every day.

To do this, they have to rely on the best information that is publicly available but often that information is partial, misleading or just plain wrong.

From the days of apartheid in South Africa to the genocide in Rwanda, governments, businesses, labour unions, NGOs and special interest groups, have restricted and distorted information and data that is available to the public.

This affects the decisions we all make.

In the field of politics, misleading claims about this or that minority group have led to everything from genocide in 1994 to xenophobic attacks against migrants and others in countries around Africa in recent years.

In the field of health, misleading claims about the causes and treatments of HIV and the medicinal properties of various foods and herbs have caused unnecessary sickness and death.

How unchecked claims caused a polio epidemic

In mid-2003, a group of religious and political leaders in northern Nigeria advised their followers against having their children vaccinated against polio. They claimed that the vaccine would make them infertile. They alleged that the immunisation drive was part of a Western-led plot to reduce the population in the Muslim world.

Tests on the vaccines showed the claims were baseless. But the media still reported the claims without checking and, by the time they were withdrawn, the damage had been done.

Polio, which was on the retreat worldwide in 2002, surged in northern Nigeria and spread from there to a swathe of countries around West Africa and the world. And almost a decade on, the disease is still crippling people in Africa and elsewhere.

Fact-checking-checking the evidence that lies behind the statements our leaders make is not an abstract interest. It affects real lives.

Better access to information

In addition to publishing our own reports, Africa Check aims to work with media and the public to provide advice and support for fact-checking initiatives around the continent.

At the same time, it is the goal of Africa Check to work with partners around Africa to lobby for and improve public access to accurate information and data.

With a culture of fact-checking and better access to information, we will all be able to make better informed decisions about our lives.