In the past weeks, the novel coronavirus known as COVID-19 has become declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization, resulted in over 180,000 cases and 7,000 deaths, and altered the daily lives of millions. As a research organization that conducts remote research, GeoPoll recognizes the importance of companies like ours doing everything we can to assist the global response to coronavirus. In addition to taking measures to protect our own employees, which are outlined here, on March 10th we deployed an initial survey on coronavirus in South Africa, Kenya, and Nigeria. The survey included links to the World Health Organization at the beginning and end, as well as messages throughout providing respondents with accurate information on the virus.
We anticipate this first report being one of several that GeoPoll will provide publicly as the impacts of coronavirus continue to be felt around the world. To get notified when future reports are released and to give us suggestions on topics, questions, and countries we should conduct research in, please click here.
Perceptions of Coronavirus in sub-Saharan Africa
While the official number of cases in countries such as Kenya remains low, governments throughout sub-Saharan Africa and other emerging regions are already taking steps to stop the virus from spreading to vulnerable populations. South Africa has now declared a national emergency, and both South Africa and Kenya have also implemented broad travel restrictions. There are also concerns around the economic impacts of the disease on economies in sub-Saharan Africa, many of which are already fragile.
To better understand the knowledge of the virus as it was beginning to spread in sub-Saharan Africa, GeoPoll deployed an SMS survey from March 10th-13th 2020 in South Africa, Kenya, and Nigeria. This survey examined awareness levels, primary information sources, knowledge of how to prevent the virus, and levels of worry. The study had a total sample size of 1,350 (450 per country) and was roughly nationally representative by location across each country. The sample had an even gender split and an age split of 33% ages 15-24, 35% ages 25-34, and 32% ages 35+. Of the initial 1,350 respondents, 1275 (94%) were aware of the recent outbreak and continued to complete the remainder of the survey. Some of our questions were also included in a study done by VERDE in Mauritius, and we have included those responses in the text below.
Awareness and Prevention of Coronavirus
Our study found that awareness of the new coronavirus outbreak is high across all countries studied, with 94% of all respondents being aware of the recent outbreak. High awareness is expected given high levels of media coverage of coronavirus even before it had impacted the studied countries. Before cases had been confirmed in each country, there had been media coverage of presumptive cases, so we also examined knowledge of confirmed cases. Nigeria and South Africa both had confirmed cases when the survey was run, and most people were aware of this, with 79% in Nigeria and 90% in South Africa stating that there were confirmed cases in their country.
In Kenya, there had been media reports of suspected cases but no confirmed cases until March 13th, after our survey had completed in Kenya. The data reflects this, with 60% stating that Kenya had no confirmed cases. However, there were higher levels of uncertainty, with 27% in Kenya stating they were not sure and 12% believing there had been confirmed cases.
Despite relatively low numbers of cases in each country, concern over coronavirus is high. We found that 71% in Kenya, 69% in Nigeria, and 72% in South Africa rated their level of concern as ‘very high.’ In Mauritius, which depends on a high amount of tourism, 81% rated their concern as ‘very high’.
Much of the global communications around coronavirus has been around the symptoms and how to prevent or slow the virus’ spread. The majority (75%) of respondents stated that they were aware of the symptoms of coronavirus, and fever, cough, and shortness of breath were correctly identified as the most common symptoms. In terms of transmission mode, ‘being near an infected person’ ‘touching an infected person’ and ‘air’ were the most known transmission modes. Overall 70% believe they are at risk of being exposed, and public places and public transport are thought of as the places with the greatest risk of exposure. The majority (73%) believe they know how to prevent coronavirus and increasing hygiene was the most-cited preventative measure.
Concerns over Coronavirus
As global concerns over coronavirus increase each day, we examined how those in South Africa, Kenya, and Nigeria were reacting to the virus. As of the time of survey run, March 10-13, the greatest concern was over global infections of the virus (34%) over local infections or contracting the disease themselves. However, we will see if this changes as the virus continues to spread. In Kenya, there are greater concerns over the financial impact of the virus than in Nigeria and South Africa: 79% in Kenya compared to 57% in each of the other countries believe they will be worse off financially as coronavirus spreads. Kenya also had less confidence in their government handling the virus than South Africa and Nigeria.
Mauritians had high confidence in their government handling the outbreak, with the majority being confident in their government and trustful of the actions they are taking. Mauritians also reported that economic challenges to their country were of great concern, with 85% mentioning that as a concern, just behind the 89% who were concerned about the spread of the virus and related casualties.
Grocery stores in some countries have been struggling to keep their shelves stocked as people buy more food than needed in anticipation of quarantines, and we found the same in the surveyed countries. Overall, 25% reported many items being out of stock, and 40% said some items are out of stock since the spread of coronavirus.
Information and Misinformation on Coronavirus in South Africa, Kenya, and Nigeria
One concern over coronavirus in countries including Kenya has been the spread of misinformation. Social channels such as WhatsApp have spread false posts about remedies, people who have contracted the virus, and more. We found social media was the most common source of information for coronavirus among the populations studied, with 47% stating that social media is one of their primary information sources, followed by TV and radio.
A large percent, 75%, said they had seen information on WhatsApp regarding coronavirus, and there was skepticism around this information, with 66% rating it ‘somewhat truthful’ compared to 20% who thought information seen on WhatsApp was ‘completely truthful.’
The response to the local media, international media, and government communications surrounding coronavirus was generally positive, with global media being given the highest scores in each country on their effective communication of the disease.
We also asked who should be responsible for ending the outbreak, finding that a global response is most favored. Almost 50% stated that health organizations should take action to stop the outbreak, while an additional 28% believe it should be a global coalition. Only 16% indicated that China should be responsible.
Given the prevalence of Chinese workers throughout sub-Saharan Africa, we also sought to understand prejudice and misinformation surrounding these workers and their likelihood of getting the disease. Overall, 45% did not believe Chinese workers were more at risk for contracting coronavirus, while 30% thought they were, and 25% reported they were not sure.
Future Studies on Coronavirus around the World
GeoPoll plans to release future studies surrounding coronavirus in the coming weeks and seeks your input as we design these studies. We welcome feedback on the data presented here and suggestions for both questions to run and additional countries to add to our research. Please use the below form or contact us at [email protected] with suggestions as we navigate this difficult situation together.
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