The endeavor to tackle the spread of COVID-19 effectively remains futile without the right grasp of perceptions and beliefs presiding in the community. Therefore, this study aimed to assess myths, beliefs, perceptions, and information gaps about COVID-19 in Ethiopia.
An internet-based survey was conducted in Ethiopia from April 22 to May 04, 2020. The survey link was promoted through emails, social media, and the Jimma University website. Perceptions about COVID-19 have considered the World Health Organization (WHO) resources and local beliefs. The data were analyzed using Statistical Package for Social Science (SPSS) software version 20.0. Classifications and lists of factors for each thematic perception of facilitators, inhibitors, and information needs were generated. Explanatory factor analysis (EFA) was executed to assist categorizations. Standardized mean scores of the categories were compared using analysis of variance (ANOVA) and t-tests. A significant difference was claimed at p-value <0.05.
A total of 929 responses were gathered during the study period. The EFA generated two main categories of perceived facilitators of COVID-19 spread: behavioral non-adherence (55.9%) and lack of enablers (86.5%). Behavioral non-adherence was illustrated by fear of stigma (62.9%), not seeking care (59.3%), and hugging and shaking (44.8%). Perceived lack of enablers of precautionary measures includes staying home impossible due to economic challenges (92.4%), overcrowding (87.6%), and inaccessible face masks (81.6%) and hand sanitizers (79.1%). Perceived inhibitors were categorized into three factors: two misperceived, myths (31.6%) and false assurances (32.9%), and one correctly identified; engagement in standard precautions (17.1%). Myths about protection from the virus involve perceived religiosity and effectiveness of selected food items, hot weather, traditional medicine, and alcohol drinking, ranging from 15.1% to 54.7%. False assurances include people’s perception that they were living far away from areas where COVID-19 was rampant (36.9%), and no locally reported cases were present (29.5%). There were tremendous information needs reported about COVID-19 concerning protection methods (62.6%), illness behavior and treatment (59.5%), and quality information, including responses to key unanswered questions such as the origin of the virus (2.4%). Health workers were perceived as the most at-risk group (83.3%). The children, adolescents, youths were marked at low to moderate (45.1%-62.2%) risk of COVID-19. Regional, township, and access to communication showed significant variations in myths, false assurances, and information needs (p <0.05).
Considering young population as being at low risk of COVID-19 would be challenging to the control efforts, and needs special attention. Risk communication and community engagement efforts should consider regional and township variations of myths and false assurances. It should also need to satisfy information needs, design local initiatives that enhance community ownership of the control of the virus, and thereby support engagement in standard precautionary measures. All forms of media should be properly used and regulated to disseminate credible information while filtering out myths and falsehoods.