Fear and confusion are proving to be the real test for SA

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Fear and confusion are proving to be the real test for SA

A doctor treating Covid-19 patients examines why many are not taking the vital test, and explains what to do

Senior reporter
South Africans are reluctant to test for Covid-19 because of misinformation says a health expert.
To test or not to test South Africans are reluctant to test for Covid-19 because of misinformation says a health expert.
Image: Reuters/Siphiwe Sibeko

Myths, misinformation and misunderstanding deter South Africans from getting tested for Covid-19.

Dr Tshidi Gule, who is treating patients with Covid-19 at a Sandton isolation hotel, says it has become apparent that there is a lot of misinformation circulating in communities around testing, which is keeping people away.

This is evident, Gule believes, from a recent Stats SA report on the behavioural and health impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The report revealed that 96.8% of respondents indicated they did not get tested because they did not think they had Covid-19. 

Of those respondents who suspected they might have been infected, 75.8% did not get tested either. 

Those respondents who indicated they did not get tested were asked a follow-up question as to why.

Dr Tshidi Gule.
Dr Tshidi Gule.
Image: Supplied

The bulk of respondents (83.9%) indicated they did not believe they had the virus, 7.8% said they did not know where to get tested, while 6.8% indicated they either did not have money to get tested or did not have the means to travel to the testing facility (1.4%).

Further to this, there is the belief that hospitals and healthcare facilities are high-risk hotspots for infection and need to be avoided. 

More than half (54%) of respondents said they refused to visit health facilities because they were afraid they would contract the virus. 

Those who had answered that they wanted to but could not access health care, indicated they could not do so because they were scared of contracting the virus (54.1%), and 25.5% were scared they might get arrested or fined for being outside their houses

“As someone who promotes preventative health care, I’d like to address some of the thinking, myths, and anxieties of South Africans around Covid-19 testing,” Gule said.

“It’s a huge concern that people who suspect they might be infected do not get tested.

“As a country, there has been a massive effort made to make it quicker and easier to test.

Gule said people needed to understand that community transmission posed a great threat to the vulnerable, which is a significant portion of the SA population.

On hospitals, laboratories and clinics being perceived as hot spots, Gule said: “The strategy of the health department, as well as the National Institute of Communicable Diseases, has been very comprehensive in terms of making sure that facilities are safe, accessible and approachable to all members of the public. 

“It’s concerning that people refuse to visit health facilities, especially the NICD test labs, because they have been made readily available across all provinces.

“The perception seems to be that once there is an outbreak, that healthcare facilities become the main reservoir of infection because the sick people go there. I think it is important to highlight the fact that the majority of Covid-19-positive citizens are sent to isolation facilities.

It’s a huge concern that people who suspect they might be infected do not get tested.
Dr Tshidi Gule

“It’s only the cases that require hospitalisation that actually end up making use of hospitals. Clinics do not house Covid-19 patients.

“It’s vital for citizens to  understand that hospitals are still serving primarily as the care facility for patients who are showing complications, which as we can see from the stats is still a very small number.

“Most of the hospital wards are running business as usual and do not house Covid-19 patients as the norm. You do not walk into a hospital corridor and suddenly you are faced with Covid-19-positive patients – that’s not how it works.

“People who are expected to be positive are first taken to an NICD testing facility and then referred to the right place, which eight times out of 10 is actually an isolation facility because they have mild symptoms.

“Those who do show very severe symptoms are sent to extremely specific and far-removed wards of hospitals.”

Gule said the health department had gone to “great lengths” to provide testing kits and to support innovations that allow for rapid testing.

“It’s really about citizens wanting to get tested in the first place. 

“It’s not just the private testing facilities that are available; there are public facilities available, which don’t cost anything.

“A portion of the respondents in the Stats SA survey said they do not have transport or money for transport to get to a testing facility, but what’s important to note is that there are campaigns around the hotspots which are the priority areas right now.

“So, if you are a citizen within the hotspot areas, most of the screening campaigns are within walking distance.”