Introduction: Malawians have yet to broadly adopt COVID-19 mitigation measures despite having overwhelming evidence about its infectivity, morbidity, and fatality. Understanding why the general population is not proactive in reducing the spread of this illness is critical to learning how to address this issue. This study explores Malawian COVID-19 risk perception and the associated constraints in the adoption of mitigations. A Health Belief Model (HBM) approach was used to understand factors that undermine COVID-19 messages to achieve behavior change.
Methods: The study applied a rapid appraisal and photovoice methodology in this qualitative inquiry to better understand individual risk perception regarding COVID-19. We selected 33 participants from three major cities in Malawi. We transcribed verbatim audio interviews and videos. Transcripts were coded manually to derive key themes and concepts.
Results: Religious and political beliefs strongly influenced COVID-19 risk perception. Critical religious factors included the coming of Christ, the wrath of God, and the coming of the beast. Politically, participants believed that COVID-19 lockdown measures were a ploy by the ruling party to remain in power.
Conclusion: The study suggests that religious beliefs and political environment undermine self-perceived risk of contracting COVID-19 among urban dwellers in Malawi. We recommend that diverse actors in Malawi should collaborate to promote the dissemination of accurate COVID-19 discourses and reduce the severity of the pandemic’s impact on the Malawi populous.