Experiences of Covid-19 are not uniform around the world and, in countries such as Libya where armed conflict exists, perceptions of the virus and the psychological impact of preventative measures differ greatly from global averages, suggests a working paper from London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).
Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, governments around the world have adopted policies to reduce the spread of the virus, with emerging research evaluating the impact on citizens’ immediate, daily lives including mental health and welfare. Little is known, however, about the perceptions and extent of the psychological impact for individuals who already live under existing threats, such as civil war.
A new working paper by Dr Miriam Tresh (Department of Psychological and Behavioural Science, LSE) investigates the experiences of individuals living in western Libya. The paper suggests that while some attitudes towards Covid-19 align with the rest of the world (including negative beliefs about governments response to the pandemic), there are large disparities in some of the ways in which individuals perceive the virus, and the measures towards containing it.
Residents of western Libya live under continued high stress from prolonged conflict and socio-political and economic fallout. The onset of the pandemic coincided with escalations in hostilities between various warring factions, and against an already over-stretched and under-resourced healthcare system. As a result, the spread of the virus was inevitable and by mid-July 2020, confirmed cases had reached 3691. These pre-existing crisis conditions mean, more recently, citizens live with the dual threat of armed conflict and Covid-19.
In a survey of over 700 people in Tripoli and its surrounding western areas, individuals were asked to complete a series of questionnaires to evaluate the impact of the crises on psychological wellbeing, identify coping strategies, such as social support networks, and assess beliefs and perceptions of the Covid-19 measures.
Three keys results showed:
- Compared to global averages, people share the beliefs that the pandemic response by the government and fellow citizens’ have been insufficient, but endorsement of Covid-19 measures is limited.
- The negative welfare effects of Covid-19 are not consistent, globally. Residents of western Libya experience high levels of stress associated with the threat and fallout of conflict. Inability to cope with the stress of conflict and daily life impacts mental health, while the pandemic does not.
- Ineffective personal coping strategies mean social networks are important for buffering the psychological effects and fallout of armed conflict. However, social support only goes some way in alleviating the significant psychological burden overall.
Based on the results of the study, Tresh recommends that the government in Libya prioritises a Covid-19 strategy that would establish public trust in their ability to handle the outbreak, and to consider the factors which reduce compliance with the Covid-19 measures. Tresh suggests that by understanding the perceptions and behaviours of people already in dire socioeconomic conditions would alter the way governments design interventions to reduce the spread of the virus, and the vaccine roll-out.
Dr Miriam Tresh says: “This research illustrates that globally, experiences of Covid-19 are not normative. In western Libya, where armed conflict has compounded dire socioeconomic conditions, Covid-19 has little psychological impact and public endorsement of distancing measures is limited. This carries the potential to change the government pandemic response and the view of the international community regarding global vaccine roll-out. Moving forward, public behaviour and perceptions should be factored into policymaking in Libya.”
Behind the article:
Amid Armed Conflict: Perceptions and the Psychological Impact of Covid-19 in Western Libya, Dr Miriam A. Tresh (2021).