At the start of April, around 25,000 cases of infection by SARS-CoV2 had been confirmed and more than 2,500 deaths registered due to the disease in the region of Catalonia, Spain alone. It has been shown in previous important outbreaks of infectious diseases that they have a huge impact on individuals and communities. The psychological effects of the illness itself and the traumatic experiences of loved ones are experienced by individuals and complete health systems. Added to this, the social ecosystem and family finances are also severely affected.
Impact on society and public health policies
After more than 2 months since the first notified case in Spain and 3 weeks of quarantine and self-isolation, the emotional burden on the community has increased. Thanks to studies in the first countries to register outbreaks and research into previous situations of generalized quarantine, we know that these situations take a significant toll on mental health. In general, they have a negative impact, even though it is true that a raised level of anxiety and alert is necessary for people to adopt the recommended safety measures quickly and rigorously during outbreaks. With all of these factors in play, it is essential to understand people's attitudes and the psychological impact in order to implement the correct public health actions.
The specific case of healthcare professionals
Added to this, many of the confirmed cases are healthcare workers. In addition to the risk of infection, these front-line staff (emergency services, ICUs and COVID patient care teams, etc.) are exposed to high levels of stress and anxiety. This gets worse as the pressure on the health system increases, forcing them to deal with significant ethical issues. Studies of the previous SARS epidemic showed not only that front-line care workers suffered from chronic stress, but also that it lasted for at least a year after the outbreak.
To respond to all these issues, the research group led by Dr. Cris Vilaplana at the Germans Trias i Pujol Research Institute (IGTP), have launched a questionnaire to ask the public, including health professionals, how are they being affected by the pandemic, not only in relation to their health but in terms of their emotional wellbeing and their family finances. The project (ClinicalTrials.gov Identifier: NCT04378452) is an initiative of the SMA-TB consortium (IGTP, Anaxomics and CNRS-IPBS) to fight against COVID-19. Fundació de Recerca Sant Joan de Déu and Fundació Lluita contra la SIDA is also collaborating in the project.
The survey is based on questions related to depression, anxiety, stress, and post-traumatic stress disorder, which have already been used in other epidemic outbreaks and in disaster situations, but it also includes questions adapted to the current situation. The group is mainly dedicated to the study of tuberculosis and in recent years has been measuring the quality of life of people in the context of infectious diseases with an aim to studying and treating people suffering from them in a more holistic and humanistic way.
Questionnaire and results
The survey (now available in Catalan, Spanish, English, and Italian) has been designed to be shared through social networks so that it goes viral. It is based on a strategy called snowball and it makes possible for everybody to participate and collaborate.
The results obtained will initially help us to better understand the impact of the outbreak of COVID-19 on the general wellbeing of the population and health workers so that we can go on to develop strategies in coordination those in charge of administrations in order to adapt policies to people's real needs. The results of the study will be published in a scientific article and will be publicly available.