File picture: Ayanda Ndamane / African News Agency (ANA)
File picture: Ayanda Ndamane / African News Agency (ANA)

Limited knowledge about Covid-19 symptoms in SA works against containment of virus - study

By Sihle Mlambo Time of article published Jul 15, 2020

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Johannesburg - One out of every four people in South Africa were unable to access medication, condoms or contraception during the peak of the Covid-19 lockdown in April this year, the latest National Income Dynamics Study (NIDS) Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey (CRAM) study shows.

The first wave of the study also found that 3 million people - mostly poor black women - had lost their jobs between February and April at the height of the stringent level five lockdown. 

The NIDS-CRAM study was conducted by 30 social science researchers from five South African universities - UCT, Stellenbosch, Wits, Rhodes and UJ. The researchers surveyed 7 000 households. 

Conducted between May and June, the study found one in five respondents who had a chronic condition such as HIV, TB, a lung condition, a heart condition or diabetes had reported inability to access medication, condoms and contraception is considerably higher.

“Of the 1 524 respondents with a chronic condition, 705 (or 39%) reported that they could not access medicine, condoms or contraception,” the study said. 

The study also said 96% of respondents who said they needed to see a healthcare worker for a chronic condition such as HIV, TB or diabetes were able to seek the help they needed. 

“Approximately 19% of the sample (1 612 respondents) reported that in the lastfour 4 weeks they needed to see a health worker about a chronic condition. 

“Of this group 90% reported that they did actually visit a healthcare facility. This is encouraging since the period referred to was during Level 5 or Level 4 in South Africa,” the study said.

The study also found that affluent South Africans had "exaggerated infection risk perceptions". 

Fifty-three percent of affluent locals believed they would contract the virus, while just 20% of the poorest among the population believed they would be infected. 

The survey also found that people had limited knowledge about Covid-19 symptoms. 

“Although 64% of respondents listed coughing as a symptom, and 63% listed fever, only 11% listed tiredness as a symptom. 

“This implies that many South Africans would not be in a good position to make decisions about when it would be vital to quarantine and/or seek care for Covid-19 symptoms.

“This is expected to have negative consequences for individuals but also on more broadly for society because it works against the containment of the disease. 

“Furthermore, knowledge of symptoms and compliance with preventative behaviour were not significantly higher amongst high-risk groups such as the elderly and those with chronic health conditions,” the report noted. 

The study also said just one out of three respondents were implementing the most effective Covid-19 preventive measures, while nine out of every 10 said they had changed their behaviour in some way or the other. 

“While 91% of respondents reported changing their behaviour in some way to try and prevent contracting or spreading the virus, much of this effort is expended on low-impact strategies.

“As droplet transmission is the most common means of spreading the disease, the first-best strategies are widely acknowledged to be avoiding large groups of people, physical distancing and mask-wearing. 

“Of those that reported changing behaviour, only 35% reported enacting first-best preventative behaviours,” the report said.

On antiretroviral treatment, one in 10 pregnant and HIV-positive mothers from a sample of 3 000 said they ran out of medication in May/June. 

“Of the 3 047 new or prospective mothers that answered the question about ARTs, 46% said they did not require ART. 

“Of the 1610 that required ART, 175 mothers (11%) said that they ran out of ART. 

“When asked the question why they ran out of ARTs, 40% selected 'Afraid of getting the Coronavirus' as their reason. 

“This fraction is very concerning as interruption in ART risks the health of the mother, as well as increasing the risk of transmission to the baby, whether vertical or through breastfeeding,” the report said.


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