Half of Pakistanis unaware of common risk factors for coronavirus

Only 50% population aware that diabetics, smokers and asthmatics are at higher risk of falling ill, reveals study


Tufail Ahmed April 15, 2020
PHOTO: INP/ FILE

KARACHI: Half of Pakistanis are unaware that diabetics, smokers and asthmatics are at a higher risk of falling severely ill from the novel coronavirus, a new study by Aga Khan University (AKU) revealed.

Researchers surveyed 738 men and women across rural and urban Pakistan to assess knowledge about Covid-19 symptoms, its mode of transmission and ways of protection from the disease.

While over 90% of those surveyed knew that the elderly are at a relatively higher risk of complications, nearly half of respondents were unaware of other risk factors such as diabetes, smoking and asthma.

“Accurate information represents the first step in effectively protecting oneself and one’s loved ones from the disease,” Professor Zafar Fatmi of AKU community health sciences department said. “This is especially critical for those living with at-risk groups as it will enable them to take the necessary precautions.”

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Worryingly, less than one in 10 rural residents correctly identified being in crowded areas as a factor that left them more vulnerable to catching the contagious disease. The majority of residents in the rural sample, or 74%, also incorrectly believed mosquito bites to be a cause of the global pandemic.

Researchers also found an inadequate level of knowledge about the symptoms of the disease. While the majority of respondents correctly recognised fever, coughing and shortness of breath as signs of coronavirus, less than one in three respondents were aware of joint or muscle pain as being a symptom.

Similarly, fewer than one in four of those surveyed knew that a person could be carrying the coronavirus without showing any signs or symptoms.

Respondents who could accurately identify more than five of the 10 symptoms of the disease listed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) were considered to have adequate knowledge; just 8% of those surveyed through the study were able to meet or exceed this benchmark.

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Researchers further found a widespread belief in the myth that 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% of urban Pakistanis incorrectly believed that pneumonia vaccines could protect them from the disease while 83% or rural respondents asserted a myth that existing medicines can effectively treat the disease.

Data from the study also highlighted the need for more awareness of isolation practices.

While nearly all respondents were aware that symptoms of Covid-19 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.

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