Original Research

Perceptions, risk and understandings of the COVID-19 pandemic in urban South Africa

Andrew W. Kim, Raquel Burgess, Nicola Chiwandire, Zwannda Kwinda, Alexander Tsai, Shane Norris, Emily Mendenhall
South African Journal of Psychiatry | Vol 27 | a1580 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajpsychiatry.v27i0.1580 | © 2021 Andrew W. Kim, Raquel Burgess, Nicola Chiwandire, Zwannda Kwinda, Alexander C. Tsai, Shane A. Norris, Emily Mendenhall | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 23 June 2020 | Published: 28 June 2021

About the author(s)

Andrew W. Kim, SAMRC/Wits Developmental Pathways for Health Research Unit, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa; and, Center for Global Health, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts, United States of America; and, Harvard Medical School, Harvard University, Boston, Massachusetts, United States of America
Raquel Burgess, Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Yale School of Public Health, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, United States of America
Nicola Chiwandire, Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa
Zwannda Kwinda, Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa
Alexander Tsai, Center for Global Health, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts, United States of America; and, Harvard Medical School, Harvard University, Boston, Massachusetts, United States of America; and, The Mongan Institute, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts, United States of America
Shane Norris, SAMRC/Wits Developmental Pathways for Health Research Unit, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa
Emily Mendenhall, SAMRC/Wits Developmental Pathways for Health Research Unit, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa; and, Science, Technology, and International Affairs Program, Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University, Washington, District of Columbia, United States of America, South Africa


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Abstract

Background: How people perceive the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic and understand their risk can influence their health, behaviours and overall livelihood. The disease’s novelty and severity have elicited a range of attitudes and perspectives countrywide, which consequently influence the public’s adherence to public health prevention and treatment guidelines.

Aim: To investigate perceptions, experiences and knowledge on COVID-19 in a community-based cohort study.

Setting: Adults living in Soweto in South Africa’s Gauteng province during the first six weeks of the national lockdown regulations (i.e. Alert Level 5 lockdown from end of March to beginning of May 2020).

Methods: Participants completed a series of surveys and answered open-ended questions through telephonic interviews (n = 391). We queried their perceptions of the origins of COVID-19, understandings of the disease, personal and communal risks and its relations with the existing disease burden.

Results: Findings from our sample of 391 adults show that perceptions and knowledge of COVID-19 vary across several demographic characteristics. We report moderate levels of understanding about COVID-19, prevention methods and risk, as well as exposure to major physical, psychosocial and financial stressors. Depressive symptoms, perceived infection risk and concern about COVID-19 significantly predicted COVID-19 prevention knowledge.

Conclusion: Public health communication campaigns should focus on continuing to improve knowledge and reduce misinformation associated with the virus. Policymakers should consider the mental health- and non-health-related impact of the pandemic on their citizens in order to curb the pandemic in a manner that maximises well-being.


Keywords

COVID-19; perceptions; risk; knowledge; South Africa

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