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

20 October, 2021

The findings of Bernard Seytre [ https://www.hifa.org/dgroups-rss/coronavirus-1378-communicating-risks-an... ] 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'. https://www.ajtmh.org/view/journals/tpmd/105/3/article-p708.xml

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.'

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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, neil@hifa.org www.hifa.org