One in six Pakistani adults believe that they and their families are safe from COVID-19 even if they take no preventive measures, according to a study conducted by Aga Khan University and The Chinese University of Hong Kong.
Pakistani researchers conducted an online survey of 1,406 adults across Pakistan over the first two weeks of May 2020 and compared the results with a similar study in Hong Kong.
Hong Kong is widely regarded as a COVID-19 containment success story. It has seen just 2,770 cases and 22 deaths in 6 months despite being a part of China and never imposing a lockdown. In contrast, data collected in May 2020 showed Pakistan’s rate of infections per 100,000 people at 137 against Hong Kong’s 33 while Pakistan’s fatality rate per 100,000 was also three times higher at 21 despite imposing wide-ranging lockdowns across the country.
Comparing risk perceptions, anxiety levels and community response to COVID-19 in Pakistan and Hong Kong can help assess whether Pakistan is prepared to take the strict preventive measures needed to control the spread of the disease, said researchers from AKU’s department of community health sciences.
The study found that Pakistanis were less concerned about COVID-19’s complications and felt they were more likely to survive the virus than those surveyed in Hong Kong. Only 41 per cent, of Pakistanis rated COVID-19 symptoms as being very severe or severe compared to 97 per cent of respondents in Hong Kong.
Similarly, nearly seven out of ten Pakistanis, or 68 per cent, believed they had a high or very high chance of surviving the disease against just 36 per cent of respondents from Hong Kong. Such perceptions about the risk of contracting COVID-19 and its complications contributes to preventive behaviour such as wearing face masks, which are almost universally worn in Hong Kong.
Pakistanis were also less likely to seek out information on preventive measures and how to detect COVID-19 symptoms than their counterparts in Hong Kong.
“The casual attitude of literate Pakistanis to preventive measures and the risk of contracting the disease is concerning,” said Professor Fauziah Rabbani, the study’s principal investigator and associate vice provost for research at Aga Khan University. “We need to be more cautious and attentive to preventive measures especially during the Eid holidays so that we can continue to contain the disease.”
Compared to Hong Kong, Pakistan is much more trusting of its government. Nearly eight out of ten Pakistanis, or 79 per cent, rate government information as being very reliable compared with just 16 per cent of people in Hong Kong.
“In Hong Kong citizens took charge of the pandemic as they didn’t trust the government,” Professor Rabbani said. “Pakistanis are fortunate to have proactive government campaigns about mask use and physical distancing but remain reluctant to follow these measures.”
Researchers also analysed the data by gender to assess differing perceptions about COVID-19 between Pakistani men and women.
In general, Pakistani men had a lower risk perception of COVID-19 compared to women. Despite a government-imposed lockdown only 71 per cent of men avoided going out in contrast to 87 per cent of women. Moreover, 62 per cent of women reported experiencing symptoms of anxiety compared to 50 per cent of men. Men in Pakistan preferred to acquire information about the pandemic from their family and friends while women in the country viewed information from doctors as being more reliable.
Researchers noted that in both countries, seven out of ten citizens were reluctant to go to hospitals or clinics. They called on Pakistanis with non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and cardiac diseases, maternal as well as child health issues to continue seeking care whilst adopting preventive measures at hospitals and clinics.
Drs Adeel Abid, Hania Shahzad, Hyder Ali Khan, Suneel Piryani and Ms Areeba Raza Khan from AKU were also involved in the study.