Misinformation and rumours about the COVID-19 pandemic in Mali have forced the public to avoid attendance of health facilities, health authorities say.
Mali recorded its first COVID-19 cases on March 25, 2020 at a time when the pandemic was ravaging its neighbours.
The first two cases were a woman of 49 years residing in the Malian capital, Bamako, and a 62-year-old man resident in Kayes in the West of the country. The two returned from France between March 12 and March 16.
Since the report of the cases, the population has been in panic over the possible outbreak of the disease, which they learnt first occurred in China, in their communities.
All that the people knew about the pandemic in other countries was through the media but with the confirmation of cases in the country, Malians changed their attitude towards hospital attendance.
Many believe if they go to health centres they will be confirmed to be infected.
The assumption is because of a rumour that Mali wants a way of filling its national coffers by declaring many coronavirus cases.
The rumour has seriously affected the operations of hospitals and health centres to the effect that their main sources of revenue, including the sale of drugs and consultation fees, are not making good returns.
Souleymane Diarra, a senior health technician at Kalaban-Coura community health centre, said the outbreak of coronavirus in Mali brought with it hard times.
The health official said that after explaining how the coronavirus was transmitted, majority of the population, including health officials, were afraid of contracting the virus.
“Wrong information on the illness has brought about difficulties in the functioning of health structures.
“We have, however, overcome these difficult times, and this because we are sanitary agents and thus the principal agents to fight against this worldwide pandemic, ”Diarra said.
He said since the report of the first coronavirus cases in Mali, the level of attendance in health facilities had drastically reduced, stressing that in Mali, it was difficult to change the habits of people.
“With the kind of rumours circulating about the illness, it was not easy to convince people to continue attending health centres.
“Up until now, we have not yet attained the former level of attendance in spite of the sensitisation campaigns on the illness.
“However, the populations are beginning to come for consultations and to be treated, but the numbers are negligible,” Diarra said.
Usually, community health centres were opened but in areas inhabited by the poor.
In March 1989, the first community health centre was opened in Bamako.
The establishment of the centres was within the context of a profound restructuring of the health system.
The head of the Garantiguibougou Community Health Centre, Dr. Oumar Coulibaly, said that the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in Mali completely turned the activities of his health facility upside down.
He said before the first coronavirus cases in the country occurred, all necessary precautions were taken to avoid the spread of the virus within the community.
“Our centre had already started applying the preventive measures against the spread of the virus.
“Meanwhile, since the state announced the first cases, the centre has not been receiving any patients.The population has simply stopped frequenting the centre,” Coulibaly said.
He said that before the arrival of the pandemic in Mali, the centre could carry out more than 50 consultations a day but since the outbreak of the virus, the centre hardly attended to 10 patients a day.
He said the reason was because the people had not been well educated on the effects of the virus.
“Many people think once you arrive at the hospital, the doctors automatically diagnose you as a carrier of the virus. Worst still, they think the risk of infection in the hospital is much higher.
“And too, most of those who go to hospital don’t always say what they are suffering from. When a patient is suffering from catarrh they always refuse to explain exactly what they are sick of. They most times only complai of headache. At that time it is difficult to diagnose correctly,” Coulibaly explained.
He, however, said patients had gradually started returning for consultation in the health centre but that in spite of the little increase in attendance, it was difficult to talk of the COVID-19 pandemic to patients.
“Some patients think once they have symptoms of the illness, they would be taken charge by the centre.
“It is necessary to continue sensitisation on the illness, especially as we already have many viruses and so the coronavirus met the populations already a little immunised.
“To this effect, it cannot do the same damage as in Europe, America or Asia. This is what has to be explained to the ppeople in addition to the safety measures.
“The people must also be sensitised to understand that going to the hospital has no risk but remaining in the house is risky,” the medical officer explained.
In spite of the sensitisation campaigns on the means of transmission of the virus and the safety measures, the people are yet to return to the habit of frequenting health centres.
They are still afraid because the virus is not yet defeated the world over. Even if the number of cases has drastically dropped, there is still the fear of a second wave of the virus.
Besides everything else, the ppeople have been finding it difficult going through this period of the pandemic.
According to Fatoumata Diagouraga, a regular attendee at the Sabalibougou Community Health Centre, clients suffer a lot financially because they must each time spend money to buy protection kits before entering the centre.
“The difficulty we face is that the treatment of illnesses has changed. Since the announcement of the arrival of the virus, when I bring a patient, they ask us to buy gloves for the patient and for ourselves. And too, the method of treatment has also changed,” Diagouraga said.
Officials at various health facilities explained that the protocols established by the World Health Organisation were available in all health structures in the capital but some patients did not understand the systematic washing of hands.
“Once we arrived at the centre, they took our temperature with the thermoflash, then they asked us to wash our hands. Afterwards we did what we came to do and then returned to our houses.
“At that time, the washing of hands was becoming tiring. They said we could catch the virus by getting near to one another, through the air or through embraces,” explained one patient at a health facility.
The patient expressed concern over the continued spreading of the disease in Europe especially.
Diagouraga is disturbed that there are so many Malians in Europe where the coronavirus continues to proliferate, adding that once the borders were completely opened, many would return to the country and spread the disease.
“By the grace of God, I have not been infected by the virus neither has any of those close to me. We pray daily that God distances us from this illness because they say it is transmissible by air,” Diagouraga said.
Vieux Diarra, a client at the Sabalibougou health centre, is one of those still doubting the existence of the coronavirus since he has never come across any patient infected by it. His main preoccupation is not to be infected.
Since the announcement of the first cases of the virus, he said he had been protecting himself against the illness. He, however, understands the fear among the people concerning the pandemic.
“Since the announcement of the first cases, people have become afraid. They no longer come to the centre for consultations because they think once inside the hospital, they would be infected by the virus.
“Before entering into the centre, the body temperature is taken which has made so many people to be afraid. I was personally afraid, but thank God, there have been no cases in our centre,” Vieux said.
According to the latest information from the Ministry of Health, of 744 tests carried out recently, 15 new cases were recorded, bringing the total number of infections in the country to 3,006.
Mali has so far registered 128 deaths and to date there is no reliable data as to the total number of cases successfully treated.