Coronavirus (1384) Communicating risks and benefits of COVID-19 vaccine (5) Risk perception in West Africa

20 October, 2021

The findings of Bernard Seytre [ ] are especially interesting. Their study in 5 West Africa countries (Cabo Verde, Burkina Faso, Guinea Bissau, Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone) showed that 'the main reason for the non-adherence to the COVID-19 preventive measures and for not taking the vaccine is a feeling of not being at risk'.

The full text of their paper reveals a rich panoply of beliefs and misperceptions about COVID-19. For example:

- 'one-third of the population thinks that mosquitoes or wild animals can transmit COVID-19'

- 'a significant number of people think that raw meat, fish, cats, dogs, and eggs can transmit the disease'

- 'a substantial number of people indicated that they believe that various plants or substances protect against COVID-19... garlic, lemon juice, neem leaf infusions, and hot drinks...'

- 'believing in erroneous protection measures could generate a false feeling of safety that could hamper adherence to protective measures...'

- 'although people have heard of coronavirus and the majority reported knowing what a virus is, the majority think only sick persons can transmit the virus. Animals and animal products are considered a much greater risk for COVID-19 transmission than asymptomatic individuals'

The authors propose the following four-point communication strategy:

'1. Explain that asymptomatic people can transmit the virus.

2 .Develop knowledge of the risk factors for serious illness.

3. Target young populations with appropriate messages.

4. Reassure populations that it is safe to frequent health centers.'


We would expect that perception of risk would be greatly affected by personal experience of relatives or neighbours falling sick and dying, and (perhaps to a lesser extent) by news reports at times of high COVID-19 transmission. The time of the study was October/November 2020. Looking at Burkina Faso, for example, there have been only 209 reported deaths from COVID-19 throughout the whole pandemic, and the vast majority of these occurred after the study. It would be quite reasonable for even a highly educated person to consider him/herself at low risk with such statistics.

Neil Pakenham-Walsh, HIFA Coordinator,