Misconceptions on COVID-19 Risk Among Ugandan Men: Results From a Rapid Exploratory Survey, April 2020

Article Authors: Keneth Iceland Kasozi, Ewan MacLeod, Fred Ssempijja, Michael W. Mahero, Kevin Matama, Grace Henry Musoke, Kevin Bardosh, Robinson Ssebuufu, Florence Wakoko-Studstil, Isaac Echoru, Emmanuel Tiyo Ayikobua, Regan Mujinya, Grace Nambuya, Hope Onohuean, Gerald Zirintunda, Justine Ekou, and Susan Christina Welburn


Background: Transmission of COVID-19 in developing countries is expected to surpass that in developed countries; however, information on community perceptions of this new disease is scarce. The aim of the study was to identify possible misconceptions among males and females toward COVID-19 in Uganda using a rapid online survey distributed via social media.

Methods: A cross-sectional survey carried out in early April 2020 was conducted with 161 Ugandans, who purposively participated in the online questionnaire that assessed understandings of COVID-19 risk and infection. Sixty-four percent of respondents were male and 36% were female.

Results: We found significant divergences of opinion on gendered susceptibility to COVID-19. Most female respondents considered infection risk, symptoms, severe signs, and death to be equally distributed between genders. In contrast, male respondents believed they were more at risk of infection, severe symptoms, severe signs, and death (52.7 vs. 30.6%, RR = 1.79, 95% CI: 1.14–2.8). Most women did not share this perception and disagreed that males were at higher risk of infection (by a factor of three), symptoms (79% disagree), severe signs (71%, disagree), and death (70.2% disagree). Overall, most respondents considered children less vulnerable (OR = 1.12, 95% CI: 0.55–2.2) to COVID-19 than adults, that children present with less symptoms (OR = 1.57, 95% CI: 0.77–3.19), and that there would be less mortality in children (OR = 0.92, 95% CI: 0.41–1.88). Of female respondents, 76.4% considered mortality from COVID-19 to be different between the young and the elderly (RR = 1.7, 95% CI: 1.01–2.92) and 92.7% believed young adults would show fewer signs than the elderly, and 71.4% agreed that elderly COVID-19 patients would show more severe signs than the young (OR = 2.2, 95% CI: 1.4, 4.8). While respondents considered that all races were susceptible to the signs and symptoms of infection as well as death from COVID-19, they considered mortality would be highest among white people from Europe and the USA. Some respondents (mostly male 33/102, 32.4%) considered COVID-19 to be a “disease of whites” (30.2%).

Conclusion: The WHO has identified women and children in rural communities as vulnerable persons who should be given more attention in the COVID-19 national response programs across Africa; however, our study has found that men in Uganda perceive themselves to be at greater risk and that these contradictory perceptions (including the association of COVID-19 with “the white” race) suggest an important discrepancy in the communication of who is most vulnerable and why. Further research is urgently needed to validate and expand the results of this small exploratory study.