“Liberians don’t know how COVID-19 spreads; heath workers and survivors are considered the most trusted sources of information,” says survey sponsored by MOH, NPHIL
Liberia’s COVID-19 situation might likely get worse, as many of the country’s citizens have “limited knowledge about the spread of the disease,” says a new report.
While this revelation is not entirely new, it is however a startling admission by Liberia’s health authorities who commissioned a survey on Knowledge, Attitude, and Practices about coronavirus virus, the respiratory disease that is rocking havoc on the world.
The survey, conducted by the Liberia Elections Observation Network (LEON), shows that survey respondents from 73 electoral districts across the country are less aware of all the symptoms of the virus, and how it spreads. Overall, all of the 2,251 survey respondents “do not understand how the virus spreads and that people in rural areas are generally less informed on the cause, symptoms, and protection against the disease, compared to people living in urban areas.”
Similarly, the survey report shows that Liberians are less informed on clear-cut practices about “social distancing with only 38% of the respondents saying they wear a mask when going out in public places,” while having limited knowledge about the effectiveness of the mask against the virus.
“It was noticed that half of all focus group participants arrived at venues without masks,” the report added. “They all recognized social distancing as a major challenge.”
Interestingly, the LEON report divulged that a little under 10% of the survey respondents thought that COVID 19 is spread by witchcraft or curses and that prayer would save them. It was also revealed that Liberians outside of Monrovia had “stronger beliefs that eating bitter things would protect them against the virus.”
“[We] think that these kinds of beliefs, without a proper strategy for messaging, could lead to increases in the spread of the virus,” the report added.
What Does this report mean?
If the finding of the survey commissioned by health authorities (Ministry of Health and the National Public Health Institute of Liberia) is anything to go by, it means the full reopening of the country by President George Weah ahead of one of the biggest holidays in the country — Independence Day –might be more risky then imagined. This also suggests that the much-publicized ‘Weah’s Project’, the government’s COVID-19 awareness drive led by the President himself, may have failed to live up to its goal of educating Liberians about the virus and how it spreads.
The number of survey respondents might be small but it tells that the government is not addressing one of the main factors responsible for slowing the chain of transmission in the communities — public information about the virus — in order to ensure citizens’ maximum adherence to preventive health measures.
The findings of the survey report also validate claims by many Liberian medical experts including infectious disease expert Dr. Dougbeh Chris Nyan and Dr. Linda Birch, the President of the Liberia Medical and Dental Council (LMDC), that the government, through the Ministry of Health’s coronavirus communication strategy is poor — and responsible for the population violating other health preventive regulations.
Earlier last week, Dr. Birch said: “Dr. [Wilhemina] Jallah’s communication skills and strategies for combating COVID-19 in Liberia are not working and she needs to see that and improve on it.”
A month before that the LMDC statement, Dr. Nyan had voiced concern about the government’s communication strategy that was not effecting behavior change among Liberians towards vigorously following the preventative health measures: social distancing, wearing of nose masks and hand-washing.
“All of this is contributing to the increase in COVID-19 cases in an already weak pandemic control process,” Dr. Nyan said. “I believe that Liberians are largely law-abiding, once given proper instructions by authorities. But in this case, the recent disregard shown towards social-physical distancing and wearing of face mask can be seen as a proportional response to the Liberian government’s improper implementation of the public health preventive regulations we proposed,” Dr. Nyan said.
The LEON survey, which was conducted from May 27 to June 4th, 2020, also revealed that outside of Monrovia, where there have been fewer cases of COVID-19, many citizens “think that the disease is not in Liberia or is a western disease and cannot affect Africans.”
In addition, the survey report said, many of the 2,251 respondents doubt the accuracy of the testing process, particularly “because samples taken from patients have to be sent to Monrovia and could get mixed up in the process of transmission.”
“61.5% of the respondents lack confidence in health care, believing that if you contract COVID-19, you would not get good health care at the clinic,” the survey finds.
According to LEON, it was revealed that Radio was by far the most widespread means of getting information for all demographics.
“However, there are other means by which citizens get information; 21% of survey respondents said they received information through visits from local health workers, while 22% had heard information through town criers in towns and villages,” the report said. “It shows that Heath workers were the most trusted source of information while some focus group participants also mentioned that survivors would be good people to hear more from about the disease, its symptoms, and treatment.”
The survey by LEON was conducted in some of Liberia’s most popular counties: Montserrado, Nimba and Grand Gedeh Counties, with specific groups of the population to include women, youth leaders, and Elders.
Robin Dopoe contributed to this story.