Researchers at Weill Cornell Medicine-Qatar (WCM-Q) found that two-thirds of people in Qatar surveyed about the Zika virus had poor knowledge of the disease.
The Zika virus is generally not harmful to most people but poses a serious risk to pregnant women as it can cause grave medical complications on unborn children such as microcephaly, characterised by an abnormally small head in newborns.
The Zika virus is not currently classified as a direct threat to the Gulf region. It is, however, present in Brazil and Argentina, and in some parts of the United States and Singapore – all areas with direct flights to Doha. This marginally increases the likelihood of the disease reaching the Gulf. In addition, the region is also home to the Aedes aegypti mosquito, one of the primary species responsible for the transmission of Zika virus. No vaccine exists for the virus, which can be transmitted by sexual intercourse and blood transfusion.
The research team of WCM-Q’s Institute for Population Health (IPH) surveyed 446 Qatar residents, originally from the GCC and other Middle Eastern countries. They were asked a range of questions about Zika.
The results showed that 66% of participants had ‘poor’ knowledge of Zika. Twenty-seven percent had ‘basic’ knowledge and just seven percent were found to have ‘broad’ knowledge.
Lead author Dr Sohaila Cheema, Director of the Institute for Population Health and Assistant Professor of Healthcare Policy and Research at WCM-Q said their aim is mainly to look at emergent public health issue that received widespread coverage in the media and find out whether the general public gained any useful practical information to protect their own health.
This study was not to make people worried about Zika virus becoming prevalent in Qatar, because the risk of that happening is very low, although future cases are indeed possible because of Doha’s position as a global transport hub.
The results are slightly concerning for us because it appears that although Zika virus was extensively covered (in the media), this does not appear to have resulted in people gaining anything more than a superficial understanding of the disease and the nature of the risk it poses.’
The article, titled Knowledge and Perceptions about Zika Virus in a Middle East Country, has been published in the prestigious international health journal BMC Infectious Diseases.
Dr Ravinder Mamtani, Professor of Healthcare Policy and Research in WCM-Q’s Institute for Population Health, said that one of the key ways to mitigate public health risks is by dissemination of useful practical information and advice. The study has demonstrated that the mainstream international media is not a reliable or effective tool for doing so.
The Zika virus is a serious emerging infectious disease that can cause devastating health issues. Because global air travel means we are well-connected to areas of the world where Zika virus is prevalent, it is important that we understand the disease. An educational programme about Zika virus would be valuable as a preventive measure against the spread of the disease in the Gulf region, especially for people traveling to afflicted regions.’
For more information about the research programme at Weill Cornell Medicine-Qatar, visit their website at qatar-weill.cornell.edu.