Those who have not yet had a close shave or a personal encounter with the virus might still think and feel that it is just one of those things.
When someone close to you gets infected and it hits them hard, and they succumb, or recover, if they are lucky, you are not left feeling and thinking the same about Covid-19. Reality sinks in deep.
The past few weeks have been scary.
New infections have been rising daily. Talking of thousands of infections daily and deaths too, meaning that so many families are grieving.
What’s worrying though is the attitude that some people still have towards the virus.
In most circles, men are more likely to be in public without a mask, or to have it on their chin just in case they bump into a police officer and have to pull it up.
Some have actually been making vows that they will not get vaccinated for Covid-19 at a time when we should be all making most of the opportunity availed by Government to get the jab. Very few countries have opened up vaccination for everyone over the age of 18 like our country has done. This should be commended and we should all be getting our jab so that we can achieve herd immunity faster.
There is still low risk perception among men when it comes to Covid-19. Some researchers have attributed it to the values of masculinities as some are saying wearing masks and staying at home is associated with weakness. They are saying that showing real manhood is about being a risk taker and not being scared of some “flu”.
However, such attitudes have some devastating effects because those that feel healthy and not at risk of contracting the virus might actually carry it home and transmit it to vulnerable family members such as the elderly and vulnerable members.
Studies have found that men are more reluctant than women to wear personal protective equipment and face covers — a trend also seen in previous epidemics.
It is well-known that the spread of the disease is influenced by people’s willingness to adopt preventative public health behaviours, which are often associated with public risk perception.
That having been said, how can men be encouraged to take this virus seriously and protect themselves and their loved ones?
Personal experience with the virus, individualistic and pro-social values, hearing about the virus from friends and family, trust in Government, science, and medical professionals, personal knowledge of Government strategy and personal and collective efficacy are all significant predictors of risk perception.
As the number of deaths from the disease rises around the world, it is becoming increasingly important to understand public risk perception.
Multiple measures have been implemented globally in an attempt to slow down the spread of the virus. Some of these include lockdowns, decongestion of workplaces, social distancing, ban on gatherings and travel restrictions.
These measures aim to prevent national health services from becoming overwhelmed by a sudden rise in cases. Studies have shown from past pandemics that the success of policies to slow down the rapid transmission of a highly infectious disease rely, in part, on the public having accurate perceptions of personal and societal risk factors. In fact, history shows that collectively, people’s behaviour can fundamentally influence and alter the spread of a pandemic.
Threat appraisal and risk perception are core features of protection-motivation theory and as such are known to be important determinants of the public’s willingness to cooperate and adopt health-protective behaviours during pandemics, including frequent hand washing, physical distancing, avoiding public places and wearing face masks. In other words, accurate public risk perceptions are critical to effectively manage public health risks.
Mpilo Central Hospital Acting CEO Professor Solwayo Ngwenya is arguably the most quoted health expert in the country on Covid-19.
All his predictions have been spot on. Viewed by some as alarmist, they have had to eat humble pie after most of Professor Ngwenya’s projections on how the virus will “behave” have been proved accurate.
Dr Ngwenya’s main message has been on pubic behaviour reminding people that the virus is static and only people move it. Each one of us is therefore, responsible for safety and we have to therefore, complement Government efforts in fighting the pandemic.
Dr Ngwenya has been reminding Zimbabweans that our public hospitals are ill resourced and cannot afford to be overwhelmed by Covid-19 patients.
He has often expressed worry and dismay over people who are disregarding Covid-19 protocols and still living normally.
The recent deaths have shaken us all. A total of 158 deaths on a single day in the country from Covid-19 is no small matter and it should call all of us to action.
Risk is socially negotiated based on people’s experiences, values and trust in institutions. Cultural practices and social norms also contribute to risk perception.
People’s perception of the risk is higher in those with direct personal experience of the virus and in those who hold more pro social world views. The act of making sacrifices for the greater benefit of society is relevant to risk communication as it reveals the social nature of risk.
Effective risk communication can fulfil part of the social contract between those who create risks and those who bear them. Health risk communication messages therefore tend to be most effective when they include information about the effectiveness of measures designed to protect people from the disease at both personal and societal level.
Health risk communication should now appeal to members of society who still perceive themselves as not at risk or with very low risk of catching Covid-19 or succumbing to it.
Men who already understand that they are also at risk of Covid-19 can reach out to their brothers and show them that now is not the time to show prowess and masculinity but to fight to stay safe and to protect themselves together with loved ones.
Men and women can all fight Covid-19 and collective effort will yield results for all of us. Remember to mask up, stay safe, stay at home and also vaccinate. — @andile_tshuma.