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‘Half of Pakistan population unaware of COVID-19 risks’

By Mukhtar Alam:

Though media was the major source of their information on coronavirus disease, half of the people lately surveyed by the Aga Khan University (AKU) research team in rural and urban were found unaware that diabetics, smokers and asthmatics were at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19.
The AKU researchers, in a report released on April 15, disclosed that over 90 per cent of those surveyed knew that the elderly were at a relatively higher risk of complications from the disease, while only half of respondents were aware of other risk factors such as diabetes, smoking and asthma.
As many as 738 men and women were accessed in the rural and urban areas of Pakistan for the survey aimed at assessing the people’s knowledge about coronavirus symptoms, its mode of transmission and ways to protect oneself from the disease.
About the sources of information about the coronavirus, the researchers said that as many as 49% of the people in question got their information from media, while another 29 per cent from social network, 13% from colleagues, five per cent from government organizations, three per cent from academic and training courses and one per cent from other sources.
“Accurate information represents the first step in effectively protecting oneself and one’s loved ones from the disease. The majority of residents in the rural sample, 74%, also incorrectly believed mosquito bites to be a cause of COVID-19,” Professor Zafar Fatmi of AKU’s community health sciences department, stated.
Less than one in 10 rural residents correctly identified being in crowded areas as a factor that left them more vulnerable to catching the coronavirus.
While the majority of respondents correctly recognized fever, coughing and a shortness of breath as signs of coronavirus, less than 1 in 3 respondents were aware of joint or muscle pain as being a symptom. Less than 1 in 4 knew that a person could be carrying the coronavirus without showing any signs or symptoms.
The researchers also found a widespread belief in the myth that the coronavirus could be treated with existing medications.
Even though there is no cure for the virus and only its symptoms can be treated, up to 60 per cent of urban Pakistanis incorrectly believed that pneumonia vaccines could protect them from the disease while 83 per cent or rural respondents asserted a myth that existing medicines can effectively treat the disease. Data from the study also highlights the need for more awareness of isolation practices.
While nearly all respondents were aware that symptoms of the coronavirus last up to two weeks, only between 37% and 64% of those surveyed were aware that being in contact with someone with coronavirus must lead to a quarantine of up to 14 days.
On a more positive note, there was widespread awareness of the importance of hand-washing, coughing into one’s elbow, and of maintaining distance from those who are coughing or sneezing.
A majority of the participants (403) across Pakistan completed the online survey, while others (198) were interviewed by telephone in urban Karachi. Individuals who took part in door-step survey in rural Thatta numbered as 137.
“We are working with partners to develop informative health awareness material on the virus that will be communicated through the sources that people trust,” Prof Dr Zafar Fatmi shared.

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