People put off going to the doctor

Fourth wave UAntwerp’s Great corona study enquired about other health problems

The fourth wave of the Great Corona Study shows what doctors already feared: many people who suffer from non-COVID-19-related health problems do not seek medical help for them. For example, they do not want to overburden doctors or they fear getting infected with COVID-19.

As in previous weeks, Belgians were again able to participate in the University of Antwerp corona questionnaire on Tuesday. The universities of Hasselt and Leuven and the French-speaking ULB are also supporting this initiative. Around 225,000 people completed the questionnaire. In the previous weeks, there were more participants: between 345,000 and 560,000 people tackled the questions per wave.

‘This is probably due to a number of factors’, Prof. Philippe Beutels (UAntwerp) explains. ‘It is the Easter holidays, so fewer people are at their computers. The splendid weather undoubtedly enhances this effect. In addition, a form of ‘corona fatigue’ is probably beginning to play a role among the population. But 225,000 participants is, of course, still a huge number, for which we are very grateful. After four waves, we are almost at one million unique participants: that is unimaginable. Thanks to all these participants, we have a wealth of information, which we also share with government advisory bodies.’

Some findings

-          The corona crisis has been dragging on for several weeks. More and more people have friends, family and acquaintances who are infected the virus. 38% of respondents know a family member, friend or close colleague who has suffered or is suffering from COVID-19. 12% of participants know someone who had to be hospitalised, 5% know at least one person who did not survive the infection.

-          The vast majority have stopped shaking hands or kissing non-household members for several weeks. This figure is even higher for people who live with other people (95%) than for those who live alone (90%). A remarkable finding: On 7 April, 2.5% of respondents said that they had shaken hands with or kissed an ‘external party’.

-          Doctors have been sounding the alarm recently, suspecting that people with other health problems are not seeking medical help. This appears to be true according to the questionnaire data: 23% would have liked to have another health problem checked, but did not do so given the circumstances. Of these, more than half (52%) report that they are currently unable to see a doctor, physiotherapist or dentist about their health problems. Also, over 40% of them feel that it’s better to not burden health workers with their problem, and finally, almost a quarter (23%) indicate that they prefer to postpone their demand for health care for fear of being infected with COVID-19. Participants could list several reasons.

-          For the first time, the questionnaire also gauged the degree of trust Belgians place in various parties during this crisis period. This results in a top three of reliable parties:

1.       the scientific experts

2.       doctors and other health care workers

3.       the authorities