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Volume: 1 Issue: 3 September 2021

FULL TEXT

REVIEW
Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Habits, Attitudes, and Perceptions Regarding Health in Argentina

ABSTRACT

Recent surveys conducted with the assistance of VOICES! Research & Consultancy, a research company with extensive experience in health-related research, are presented to understand how perceptions and beliefs of Argentine citizens on different aspects of health have been affected during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. Results are based on different surveys done by VOICES! together with different partners, offering international comparison. A primary source was the main findings of the annual WIN World Survey conducted by WIN International and VOICES!, which explored the views and beliefs on health and habits of 29 252 citizens from 34 countries around the world.
The other source was the results of 2020 Gallup International Association and VOICES! global survey, which tracked the development of citizen's attitudes toward the pandemic and which was conducted in 47 countries around the world, including Argentina, and included 45 000 adult citizens.
Finally, main insights of the nationwide public opinion research conducted in 2020 together with UADE Foundation, one of the main universities in Argentina, were also included in this study. The aim of this study was to understand opinions, attitudes, and perceptions of Argentines regarding the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on society in terms of health, with a special focus on the psychological effects.


KEY WORDS: Mental health, Vaccines

INTRODUCTION
The global events that took place during 2020 placed health care under the spotlight, from the attention and care given individually to patients to the way in which governments and institutions managed it for society. In 2019, the Benaim Foundation, together with VOICES!, a research company with extensive experience in health-related research, conducted a national study on myths, beliefs, and attitudes of Argentines toward burns; surveys were also recently conducted by VOICES! to understand how perceptions and beliefs of Argentine citizens on different aspects of health have been affected during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. Results in this report are based on different surveys done by VOICES! together with different partners, offering international comparisons.

SELF-PERCEPTION OF HEALTH AND HEALTHY HABITS DURING THE PANDEMIC
In late 2020, the Worldwide Independent Network of Market Research (WIN International) published, together with VOICES! in Argentina, the results of the annual WIN World Survey (https://winmr.com/win-world-survey/), which explored the views and beliefs of 29 252 citizens from 34 countries around the world about their health and lifestyle. This survey analyzed the visions and opinions related to health perceptions and health habits of citizens. The survey found that most people worldwide perceived themselves as healthy, despite the fact that a significant proportion of the population reported maintaining bad habits.

Despite the negative consequences caused by the COVID-19 pandemic during the year 2020, this recent survey showed that 79% of the global population perceived itself as healthy, whereas about 20% perceived themselves as unhealthy. Among the countries surveyed (see Table 1), citizens of Indonesia (92%), South Korea (91%), and Pakistan (91%) considered themselves healthy at a higher proportion. In contrast, citizens of Hong Kong (66%), Finland (65%), and Chile (61%) had the lowest ranking of good self-perceived health. In Argentina, 83% of those surveyed evaluated their own health positively, placing Argentina close to the global average.

The survey also considered that perceptions of health involve a complex combination of variables, including daily habits. Therefore, 5 specific habits or factors that can have a positive or negative impact on health were measured: sleep, stress, exercise, tobacco consumption, and alcohol consumption. With regard to sleep, 64% of the global population acknowledged having slept well frequently. Argentina was above the average, with 74% of people responding that they slept well regularly.Stress affected about a third (31%) of the world's population, who responded that they suffered from stress regularly. Women reported being more stressed than men (35% vs 27%, respectively), and low-income sectors reported the highest levels of stress (36% vs 27% for higher-income sectors).

With regard to habits that have a negative impact on health, 17% of the global population reported regular smoking and 15% reported consuming alcoholic beverages regularly. According to the survey, men smoked and consumed alcoholic beverages at a considerably higher proportion than women (22% men vs 11% women smoked and 20% men vs 11% women consumed alcohol). In Argentina, tobacco consumption increased between 2019 and 2020 (from 18% to 23%), as did alcohol consumption (from 9% in 2019 to 13% in 2020).

For positive habits, such as exercising, 39% of the world's population reported that they exercised regularly in 2020. However, a high rate of people did not exercise at all or did very little (31%). In Argentina, the percentage of people who exercised regularly was lower than the global average (33%).

All of the above showed that, despite self-perceived good health, this self-perception did not always result in good habits or factors that have positive impacts on quality of life.

PERCEPTIONS ABOUT THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC AND VACCINES
Global research on attitudes towards COVID-19 was conducted by Gallup International Association (GIA) and, in Argentina, by VOICES! at the end of 2020. The research was conducted in 47 countries around the world and included about 45 000 adult citizens. During 2020, GIA and VOICES! tracked the development of citizen s attitudes toward the pandemic and compared the results from different waves.

The findings showed that travel restrictions were widely accepted as a means to combat the pandemic and were viewed as part of the "new normality." More than 75% of people worldwide agreed that travel restrictions between countries are acceptable as a measure to combat the spread of COVID-19; in Argentina, 76% of respondents agreed.

On the other hand, there was a predisposition to sacrifice some rights, but with a critical stance. Nearly 3 of 4 respondents globally stated that they were willing to partially sacrifice their human rights if it helped prevent the spread of the disease. However, there was a downward trend, with people becoming more reluctant to give up some of their rights once the initial shock of the pandemic had passed. In the first wave of the pandemic, the willingness to give up human rights reached 80% worldwide. In Argentina, 57% of those interviewed were willing to partially give up their rights to fight the virus. However, there was a significant drop since the first April measurement of 75%. This drop seems to be a sign of the fatigue that the restrictions and the pandemic crisis have generated in the mood of the population.

Attitudes toward vaccines were also measured in this survey. Although the opinions were rather positive, there were still significant doubts that predominated in some of the countries.

About 67% of people worldwide stated that they would take a COVID-19 vaccine if it were publicly available and considered the vaccine safe and effective. India (85%) and Asia (up to 80% in the eastern part of the continent and 98% in Vietnam) showed the greatest willingness to take a COVID-19 vaccine; however, respondents in Russia, Europe, and Africa were more reluctant to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. Argentina was above the global average, with 79% of people responding that they would receive the vaccine if it were considered safe and effective, with a higher proportion of men (85% vs 73% of women) and young people aged 18 to 29 years (87%) willing to receive it.

On the other hand, the majority of respondents worldwide believed that most people in their country would be vaccinated against COVID-19 if there was a vaccine that was considered safe and effective. In the case of Argentina, 77% of respondents believed that citizens would be willing to be vaccinated, which was quite similar to the percentage who responded that they were personally willing to receive the vaccine (79%).

It seems that the global COVID-19 pandemic has also made most people in the world more likely to receive vaccines in general, and 50% of respondents said they agreed with this. However, 18% responded that after the pandemic they would be less likely to receive vaccines, although 28% responded that they would have no change in their attitudes toward vaccines. In Argentina, about 53% of the participants responded that the pandemic had made them personally more open to vaccines in general, 8% responded that the pandemic made them less likely to get vaccinated, and 30% responded that the pandemic had not changed their attitudes toward vaccines in general.

THE IMPACT OF THE PANDEMIC ON MENTAL HEALTH
The Universidad Argentina De la Empresa (UADE) Foundation and VOICES! conducted a nationwide public opinion survey in May 2020 with the aim of understanding opinions, attitudes, and perceptions of Argentines regarding the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on society in terms of health, with a special focus on the psychological effects.

On the question of the level of stress that the COVID-19 pandemic had on the lives of Argentines, about 71% stated that the coronavirus currently represented a very or fairly important source of stress.

With regard to the specific effects of the pandemic, 67% of Argentine respondents stated feeling anxious. Difficulties in falling asleep were also highlighted by respondents. About 58% acknowledged having this problem. In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic situation caused appetite disorders, with more than half of the respondents (56%) acknowledging having a lack of appetite or eating too much. On the other hand, depression, loneliness, and fear were also experienced, with 37% having feelings of depression at some time over the last week, 31% feeling very lonely, and 28% being very afraid.

The pandemic situation and the feelings around it led to an increase in the consumption of tranquilizers, cigarettes, and alcoholic beverages among those surveyed. Specifically, 20% acknowledged having smoked more frequently during the last week, 12% of those surveyed affirmed having consumed tranquilizers during the last week, and 11% admitted having consumed more alcoholic beverages than usual.

This study also measured a series of indicators on mental health, for which data had also been collected 5 years earlier: these results showed that sleeping problems, worry, and lack of energy or listlessness had increased by more than 10 percentage points versus results shown in 2015. Feelings of sadness, emptiness or depression, stress or tiredness, and irritation, meanwhile, increased by between 4 and 9 percentage points.

Regarding the psychological impact of the pandemic, the results of the study showed that worry and other negative adjectives predominated in defining the mood of the population. Worry (mentioned by 9% of the respondents), tiredness or feeling down (8%), and sadness (7%) occupied 3 of the first 5 places. Counting only the first 10 places in number of mentions, positive feelings, more specifically hope/optimism (8%) and tranquility (7%), together occupied 15% of the total number of mentions, against 48% of those feelings with a negative meaning.

Regarding the evaluation of their own mood, on a scale of 1 to 10, the respondents rated their mood during the previous week at 5.8 points, which is considered unsatisfactory. The survey also asked about their state of preparedness to face isolation; although about 69% considered themselves very or fairly prepared to face this situation, the remaining 31% felt unprepared or not prepared at all. When asked about the factors of the context that had the greatest negative impact on them, economic needs were the main factor highlighted by the respondents, with 58% pointing to this factor as having the worst impact on their lives.

Finally, the study also inquired about relationships and found that about 87% of Argentines maintained good relationships with those who were sharing their home during the COVID-19 pandemic. Those who lived only with their partners were those who expressed the highest levels of satisfaction in daily coexistence (94%), a percentage that dropped to 88% among those who lived with a family group with fathers, mothers, and/or children and 74% among those who lived with a non-family group (friends or acquaintances). Relationships and social ties seemed to be maintained despite the distance and appeared to be crucial to make it tolerable. That is, 80% of Argentines responded that they communicated frequently (that is, very or quite a lot) with their friends or relatives who did not live with them, whereas about 20% responded that they did so little or not at all.

ABOUT THE CENTER OF EXCELLENCE FOR BURN CARE
The Benaim Foundation was created in 1981 to promote and carry out actions aimed at increasing research, contributing to teaching, improving assistance, and promoting burn prevention. Specifically, its mission is to prevent burns, treat and rehabilitate burn victims, educate professionals and society in general, and investigate new treatments.

In its pursuit of its  objectives of burn risk reduction, prevention, and scientific development, the Foundation created the Center of Excellence for Burn Care (C.E.P.A.Q.), located at the Hospital Aleman of Buenos Aires.

The C.E.P.A.Q. has an interdisciplinary team of professionals and excellent resources for the treatment of burns.

ABOUT VOICES!

VOICES! is a research company founded in 2012 by Marita Carballo and Constanza Cilley with a focus on social and health issues (http://www.voicesconsultancy.com/). VOICES! conducts local and regional studies for private organizations, governments, and international agencies using rigorous methodologies and innovative approaches. It is part of the WIN/GIA international network, with the capacity to conduct studies in more than 65 countries. The VOICES! team has extensive experience in national and international studies and has participated in the world's most important surveys.


Volume : 1
Issue : 3
Pages : 79 - 82


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From VOICES!, Buenos Aires, Argentina
Acknowledgements: The authors have not received any funding or grants in support of the presented research or for the preparation of this work and have no declarations of potential conflicts interest. The original research of this paper was presented at the 12th Asia Pacific Burn Congress, Singapore, August 2019, and won Best Abstract Award (Abstract 3289).
YO and MS designed this study, extracted the data, and analyzed the data. HM confirmed the data and provided critical review. All authors were involved in writing and approving the final manuscript.
Corresponding author: Constanza Cilley, Av Alvear 1807 902, CABA, Buenos Aires, Argentina
Phone: +54 9 11 48076256
E-mail: constanzacilley@voicesconsultancy.com