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 research team of WCM-Q’s Institute for Population Health surveyed 446 people in Qatar from GCC or other Middle Eastern countries and asked a range of questions about Zika.
The results showed that 66% of participants had ‘poor’ knowledge of Zika. 27% had ‘basic’ knowledge of Zika, and 7% were found to have ‘broad’ knowledge of the disease.
The Zika virus is generally not harmful to most people but poses a more serious risk to pregnant women as it can cause grave medical complications such as the birth defect microcephaly, characterised by an abnormally small head in newborn babies.
The Zika virus is not judged to be a direct threat to the Gulf region. It is, however, present in Brazil, Argentina, Florida in the US and Singapore – all areas with direct flights to Doha – which marginally increases the likelihood of importation of the disease.
Lead author of the study Dr Sohaila Cheema, director of the Institute for Population Health and assistant professor of Healthcare Policy and Research at WCM-Q, said, “Our aim with this study was not to make people worried about Zika virus becoming prevalent in Qatar, because the risk of that happening is very low. Rather, our aim was to look at an emergent public health issue that received widespread coverage in the media and discover whether the general public gained useful practical information that they could use to protect their own health.
“The results are slightly concerning for us because it appears that although the Zika virus was extensively covered by international 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.”
Dr Ravinder Mamtani, professor, Healthcare Policy and Research in WCM-Q’s Institute for Population Health, said, “One of the key ways in which we try to mitigate public health risks is by the dissemination of useful practical information and advice, and this study has demonstrated that the mainstream international media is not a reliable or effective tool for doing so.”