The COVID-19 pandemic has affected almost every nation on Earth, including the ones with some of the strongest healthcare systems in the world. As COVID-19 is so contagious, it is imperative to maintain social distancing, or, more rightly called physical distancing, to keep its spread suppressed. This can be a challenge in populated areas, which always carry the risk of becoming a hotspot should the coronavirus emerge there. These densely populated areas are also more likely to be placed under lockdown as a measure to control the spread of the virus.
Nakkasah is one such area in Makkah city in Saudi Arabia – overly populated, with poor sanitation posing healthcare risks to the residents. Furthermore, the majority of the people who live in Nakkasah are paid daily and so represent the lower socio-economic class. The area became a hotspot due to a surge in COVID-19 cases and was put under lockdown from April till June 2020. After the lockdown was lifted, we, the student researchers, interviewed randomly selected 12 residents there who were infected with COVID-19 and then recovered to gain an insight into their experience.
We discovered that the residents who were more active social media users were well aware of world-wide news related to the pandemic, and were aware of what precautionary measures to observe. The residents with one or more long-term diseases, such as diabetes or hypertension, suffered from more serious symptoms of COVID-19 than others, as well as experiencing a worsening of their pre-existing conditions. Another complication for sufferers of long-term conditions during the lockdown was the interruption in the supply-chain for their medication, which worsened their situation overall. The majority of the interviewees believe that they contracted the virus by being in close contact with a person who had been infected with the virus. They also highlighted that a large number of the residents of Nakkasah are no longer observing the precautionary measures as strictly as they were during the lockdown, believing that the risk from COVID-19 has subsided.
Some residents reported issues with their mental health due to the stress of being under lockdown, not being in contact with family and friends and not knowing what would happen next; others reported an adverse impact on their financial situation due to being unable to work during the lockdown. As a result of the direct intervention of the Ministry of Health to control the situation, the residents reported good care of COVID-19 patients with an adequate supply of medicines to control COVID-19 symptoms and designated places to isolate severely ill patients.
There can be numerous lessons drawn from our findings to recommend the plans for such areas around the globe in order to alleviate the sufferings of the local residents on the ground level, not only during this pandemic, but also in future disease outbreaks.
At the moment of writing, more details are available via pre-print article (not peer-reviewed) of our project. It is also under review for publication in British Medical Journal Open. You can also watch and hear a summary of the project from one of us in a YouTube video by clicking here.