Covid-19: Why are so many South Africans refusing testing?
A recent Stats SA report (released 30, April 2020) on the Behavioural and health impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic in SA revealed that the majority (96.8 percent) of respondents indicated that they did not get tested since they were of the opinion that they did not have Covid-19.
Of those respondents who suspected that they might have been infected by Covid-19, three-quarters (75.8 percent) did not get tested either.
Further to this, health professionals believe there is the belief among people that hospitals and healthcare facilities are high risk hot spots for infection and need to be avoided. More than half (54 percent) of the Stats SA survey respondents said they refused to visit health facilities because they are afraid that they will contract the virus.
Dr Tshidi Gule, from MediSpace Lifestyle Institute and who is treating Covid-19 positive patients in isolation hotels, addresses some of the thinking, myths, and anxieties of South Africans around Covid-19 testing.
Myth: I do not need to get tested because I don’t think I have the virus
It’s a huge concern that people who suspect they might be infected do not get tested. As a country there has been a massive effort made to make it quicker and easier to test. It is important that citizens take up the opportunity to present themselves for screening, especially in the areas that have been promoted by the public health department, where screening is for free.
I think that people need to understand that community transmission poses a great threat to the vulnerable, which is a significant portion of the SA population. It is the responsibility of every citizen to present themselves for testing. This is an infectious virus that as the ability to take lives.
Myth: Hospitals and clinics are hotspots for infection
The strategy of the Department of Health (DOH) as well as the National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD) has been very comprehensive in terms of making sure that facilities are safe, accessible, and approachable to all members of the public.
It’s concerning that people refuse to visit health facilities, especially the NICD test labs, because they have been made readily available across all provinces. The perception seems to be that once there is an outbreak, that healthcare facilities become the main reservoir of infection because the sick people go there.
I think it is important to highlight the fact that the majority of Covid-19 positive citizens are sent to isolation facilities. It’s only the cases that require hospitalisation that actually end up making use of hospitals.
Clinics do not house Covid-19 patients, in fact there has been a nationwide memo by the DOH to say that primary healthcare clinics as well as doctors are encouraged not to see people who are possibly Covid-19 positive.
But rather first conduct a telephonic screening. Tele-medicine has been introduced to the country to facilitate a safer model of screening. Patients are then referred to the appropriate testing facilities and when necessary, are referred to the proper isolation facility or hospital, depending on the severity of their condition.
It’s vital for citizens to understand that hospitals are still serving primarily as the care facility for patients who are showing complications, which as we can see from the stats is still a very small number. Most of the hospital wards are running business as usual and do not house Covid-19 patients as the norm.
You do not walk into a hospital corridor and suddenly you are faced with Covid-19 positive patients, that’s not how it works. People who are expected to be positive are first taken to a NICD testing facility and then referred to the right place, which eight times out of ten is actually an isolation facility because they have mild symptoms. Those who do show very severe symptoms are sent to extremely specific and far removed wards of hospitals.
There is no justifiable reason why people would think that the health care facilities are reservoirs of mass infection. This is incorrect and definitely a perception that needs to be addressed.
Myth: Testing is not affordable
The ministry of health has gone to great lengths to provide resources in terms of testing kits and to support innovations that allow for rapid testing. Therefore, it’s really about citizens wanting to get tested in the first place. They need to call the hotline and get information of where they can test.
It’s not just the private testing facilities that are available, there are public facilities available, which don’t cost anything. A portion of the respondents in the Stats SA survey said they do not have transport or money for transport to get to a testing facility, but what’s important to note is that there are campaigns around the hotspots which are the priority areas right now.
So, if you are a citizen within the hot spot areas, most of the screening campaigns are within walking distance. It’s the responsibility of every citizen to look after their own health and protect the health of the people they live with, and it starts with getting tested.