Commun Med (Lond). 2023 Dec 21;3(1):193. doi: 10.1038/s43856-023-00377-8.
INTRODUCTION: Public perception of the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic compared to six other major public health problems (alcoholism and drug use, HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, lung cancer and respiratory diseases caused by air pollution and smoking, and water-borne diseases like diarrhea) is unclear. We designed a survey to examine this issue using YouGov’s internet panels in seven middle-income countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America in early 2022.
METHODS: Respondents rank ordered the seriousness of the seven health problems using a repeated best-worst question format. Rank-ordered logit models allow comparisons within and across countries and assessment of covariates.
RESULTS: In six of the seven countries, respondents perceived other respiratory illnesses to be a more serious problem than COVID-19. Only in Vietnam was COVID-19 ranked above other respiratory illnesses. Alcoholism and drug use was ranked the second most serious problem in the African countries. HIV/AIDS ranked relatively high in all countries. Covariates, particularly a COVID-19 knowledge scale, explained differences within countries; statistics about the pandemic were highly correlated with differences in COVID-19’s perceived seriousness.
CONCLUSIONS: People in the seven middle-income countries perceived COVID-19 to be serious (on par with HIV/AIDS) but not as serious as other respiratory illnesses. In the African countries, respondents perceived alcoholism and drug use as more serious than COVID-19. Our survey-based approach can be used to quickly understand how the threat of a newly emergent disease, like COVID-19, fits into the larger context of public perceptions of the seriousness of health problems.