Risk perception management, key to curbing spread of Covid-19

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By Ndakazorei Mugebe

IT IS now  over  six months since the first Coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) was identified in December 2019 in Wuhan, Hubei, China and has resulted in the ongoing global pandemic that has infected over 11 million people.

Zimbabwe has not been spared from this pandemic, with the first case detected in March 2020 and confirmed cases hitting 625 as of Friday June 3 2020.

As local health experts, government and the citizenry at large grappled with this new disease, among the immediate containment measures undertaken by government was a national 21-day lockdown, the quarantine of those infected and intensified testing for suspected cases.

This was in line with World Health Organisation recommended guidelines where lockdowns were adopted globally to flatten the Covid-19 infection curve.

Although lockdowns largely worked, this could never be a long term solution, they only gave temporal reprieve to cultivate sustainable and robust prevention measures and effective case management.

In such wide scale public health pandemic like Covid-19 RISK PERCEPTION is of paramount importance as it affects response.

The gradual relaxation of lockdown restrictions in Zimbabwe, attempting to balance prevention and economic survival calls for serious consideration of  how risk awareness human factors such as knowledge, attitude and behaviour/practice take a central role in managing the spread.

People’s risk perception and risk taking behaviour become important aspects to predict the pandemic spread, and the public’s reaction to policy measures aimed at containing it are key.

The rising statistics of lockdown restrictions violators, escapees from quarantine centres, people using illegal entry points, friends and relatives harbouring evaders and people failing to observe prevention measures indicates challenges on Covid- 19 risk awareness.

Factors that contribute to risk perception include:

Experience with the virus

Social amplification though information received from informal but trusted sources such as family and friends

Pro-sociality which entails actions undertaken to help others

Individual worldviews and knowledge in relation to health

Economic disposition

Gender effects between males and females

Key take home points on Covid-19 prevention include limiting exposure by avoiding public places, staying at home, limited travel, keeping social distance of at least a metre from person to person, hand washing with soap and running water for at least 20 seconds or using alcohol-based sanitisers and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces.

People in Zimbabwe have reacted variably to these measures, in observing people’s and service providers’ comportment in public market places like Mbare and  Highfield in Harare, one can conclude that there is low risk perception.

Social distancing  is not kept, no use of sanitisers as people exchange money and goods, even  local authorities have failed to rise up to the occasion as evidenced by the non-provision of hand-washing points in public places such as shopping centres, market and bus termini.

Such conduct is worrying more so against a rise in unexplained Covid-19 local transmission.

Another interesting phenomenon about Covid-19 in Zimbabwe is the rural – urban divide, casual calls with relatives in my village they are quick to ask: “How are you coping with Corona in Harare? Here we are all good we are busy with our usual chores in the gardens and field.”

There is a general belief that Covid-19 is only in urban centres, it is worth taking cognisance of the direct and indirect contact between rural and urban residents, mostly though agriculture produce marketing and also returnees from neighbouring countries who are evading or skipping quarantine and testing.

Individual views and knowledge in relation to health also takes fore in risk perception, these emanate from religious beliefs, socialisation, culture and gender, coupled with the slow onset and low Covid-19 related deaths recorded in Zimbabwe has lead some people to falsely conclude that Covid-19 does not exist or attribution to special spiritual immunity to Covid-19.

Strong religious beliefs on health and faith healing have also filtered in to cloud risk appreciation for some people, in Zimbabwe over 80% of the population attest to being Christian.

It is common talk in social discussion to hear people remark that Covid-19 does not exist if it was there then many people would have died in Zimbabwe, some even failing to appreciate the logic of churches closure during lockdown.

In the absence of a known and proven vaccine/cure to Covid-19 against the gradual relaxation of lockdown restrictions it is important not to lose sight of the dangers and reality of the coronavirus.

The risk is even huge than before hence the need to cultivate sustainable and robust prevention measures and effective case management.

Authorities should to work together and put in place enabling infrastructure and services that buttress Covid-19 prevention messages being churned out in various media platforms.

Individuals need to take personal and peer health seriously firstly by accepting the existence of Covid-19 and taking all preventive measures in earnest and  treat every other person or environment as LIVE.

They should also adhere to the call by government for the compulsory wearing of face masks in public places, as a preventative measure.

Note: The wiews expresssed in this article are the writer’s.

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