“Even at home, we stay away from each other (maintain physical distancing). Only one person from our neighbourhood goes out to bring vegetables and milk. We wash all vegetables and milk bags. I have kept three large handkerchiefs for each member of my family to use as a mask. My son’s classmates come to my house to go through their online classes because my husband has a smartphone and internet. I give them sanitiser on their hands. I make it mandatory for them to wear a mask and then I ask them to sit some distance apart”: a 35-year-old domestic worker
“Once you catch the disease, you may die. No one is allowed to see your body. If you are positive then they will take you (to isolation facilities), and then there is no coming back”: a 34-year-old sex worker.
“Young adults in the area who roam around and don’t follow lockdown rules think that they can’t get the infection. There are no patients in our area. Therefore, they just sit in groups the whole day and when a police van comes, they just run to their homes. Some of them don’t even wear masks and some wear them just for show. Their masks are often around their necks and do not cover their mouths: an outreach worker from an NGO.
These are comments recorded during a rapid qualitative assessment, and an online survey, conducted by the Prayas Health Group in Pune in May this year. In the report `People’s perceptions about social distancing and perceived risk of acquiring Covid-19′, survey findings showed that there was a need for more positive communication and community engagement to address fear about the infection among people
Dr Shirish Dharak, senior researcher with Prayas Health Group, told The Indian Express about varying reactions to risk perception, One of the participants working at a CNG refill station mentioned that they sprayed disinfectant on every vehicle, as well as the person sitting in the vehicle, before allowing them to enter in the refill area. A policeman reported that many of his colleagues sanitise chairs before sitting, or many times, they don’t sit for hours to avoid possibility of infection. They have to use a swipe machine for collecting fines and there is a lot of fear that they will catch the infection from the machines.
Among the study participants, two frontline workers, one doctor and one teacher/surveillance worker, narrated their experiences, highlighting the fear of contracting the infection. A doctor, who runs a private clinic in an area defined as a containment zone, said, “When I am in the clinic, I wear a N95 mask, another disposable mask on top of it, and cover my face with a face shield.”
Of the 832 people who completed the online survey, researchers found that 26 per cent feel that they have complete knowledge about the disease, and another 65 per cent feel that they have most of the knowledge about the disease. Sixty percent of the people surveyed believed that eating ginger and garlic would prevent Covid-19, while 40 per cent believed taking homoeopathic medicines and other herbal substances will help them fight the infection, said Dr Ritu Parchure, senior researcher of Prayas Health Group.
Their perception of institutional quarantine was largely negative, researchers said, adding that there was a need to ensure supportive communication, while continued training of frontline workers (teachers, police, people involved in house-to-house surveys) was essential to address fears and misconceptions.
In collaboration with the state Health department and National Health Mission, the Group has made a video — `Ekta Koni Nahi’ — to prevent stigma and discrimination against Covid-19 patients.
Dr Shashank Joshi, one of the key members of the Covid task force in the state, said stigma and discrimination were the biggest challenges in the recovery of patients. “At least 30 to 40 per cent deaths are due to lack of early diagnosis as people are still unwilling to avail treatment until the disease is at an advanced stage,” said Dr Joshi, dean of the Indian College of Physicians.
According to ICMR guidelines, the stigma and discrimination related to Covid-19 prompts many patients to conceal their symptoms and hesitate before seeking medical care. Dr Joshi, who conducts a Facebook Live session on Sundays with psychiatrist Dr Harish Shetty, pointed out that there was a need to instill positivity and shed “corona phobia”.
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