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Interview with Paola Sala

The Doctor in Public Health, epidemiologist, academic and researcher at the University of La Serena addresses the management that we should take as a community in the face of the global health crisis experienced by the coronavirus, where one of the great enemies is the lack of awareness towards the associated risk of this disease.

Many have been the recommendations that different experts have given in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is no secret to anyone that it is a highly infectious virus and that it can aggravate many people, especially those with risk factors.

Despite the above, many people still cannot identify the real danger that this disease entails, due to various factors, one of the main ones being the so-called "risk perception".

For the academic and epidemiologist ULS, Dra. Paola Salas, “Risk perception determines the type of management that could be adopted in the face of a risk situation. It should be considered, then, that this concept becomes even more complex, if we consider that the perception and management of this risk do not depend solely on access to information, but are also influenced by the conditions that prevail in social and cultural contexts ” .

Dr. Salas explains that, according to the Minsal figures, “The age ranges that have documented the lowest perception of risk in other infectious diseases have been the elderly, children, adolescents and young people; Regarding gender, it is the man who protects himself less. In the current outbreak of COVID-19 in Chile, the contrary cases have occurred between 20 to 59 years (80,6%), the percentage of patients being much lower, but which are more aggravated in the group of adults older than 60 years (14,8%). Until now, adolescents (2,5%) and children from 0 to 9 years old (2,1%) have the lowest infection rate ”.

Likewise, the specialist emphasizes that “For this reason, we could point out that people do not believe in the risks associated with this disease, especially the young adult of productive age, despite knowing or knowing how dangerous the infection is in other countries. We could assume that this happens by not feeling that the risk is coming and approaching them, people think that it can happen to others, not to them. This is known in epidemiology as lack of perception of individual risk and may even become collective. ”

On the other hand, the academic maintains that despite the hundreds of recommendations made by different information channels, "It has been seen that there are behaviors that could be pointing to this hypothesis being true, when verifying that people do not respect the recommendations to stay at home, try not to attend places where other people could infect them or continue with risk factors known as the habit of smoking, without even reducing the doses ”.

It further indicates that “We are facing a scenario never before experienced as Chileans, in the age of technology, which presents us with the discordant challenge that the lowest perception of risk could be found in the lack of information or inadequate information that people have; for example, children, youth, and young adults may not use radio, television, or read information from reliable sources, as it has been described that they primarily receive the information through their friends or through the digital or mass media. The advice of the family is important for this, but especially of the peers with risk perception and the desire not to want to get sick. ”

Measures and recommendations

Dr. Salas further states that "At the collective or community level, progress must be made towards the construction of risk, where the actions to improve risk perception for the common good are divided into three areas: epidemiological, environmental, and communicational."

Explain what “In the epidemiological field, it is to maintain an active and timely epidemiological surveillance system to notify suspects who arrive at health centers, accompanied by a strong surveillance system from the community itself; the idea is that there is what is called in epidemiology 'rumor surveillance', which consists of empowering the community in self-reporting and early consultation. "Also improve environmental monitoring, ensuring the supply of drinking water, soap, disinfectants, creating routines for cleaning surfaces in offices, jobs and inside the home."

In addition, it points out that "We must reinforce risk communication where priority should be given to the delivery of case information in real time or as soon as possible by the health authorities, and reinforce communications of prevention and control measures."

Finally, the professional assured that "We also need to develop the perception of individual risk, strengthen important links such as affection, solidarity and empathy with those who get sick, as well as begin to decrease anxiety about why preventive isolation is an adequate security measure , being that it has been almost the only most effective measure in most of the countries that are already in the stage of involution of the infection in a massive way ”.

Written by Patricia Castro, DirCom