Bats provide many ecosystem services and have intrinsic value. They also act as host reservoirs for some viruses. Several studies have linked zoonotic diseases to bats, raising questions about the risks bats pose, especially to people living close to bat roosts. Through a series of case studies undertaken in three communities, the purpose of this paper is to explore the various ways in which framings and perceptions of bats can influence a potential spillover of bat-borne viruses to humans in Ghana. It assesses the social, cultural and economic factors that drive human-bat interactions and posits that understanding the socio-economic contexts in which human-bat interactions occur is key to the success of future communication strategies.
Primary data collection methods included participatory landscape mappings, transect walks, focus group discussions and questionnaire surveys. Perceptions of bats vary and are influenced by personal beliefs, the perceived economic benefits derived from bats and the location of bat roosts. Activities that put people at risk include bat hunting, butchering and consumption of poorly prepared bat meat. Those who live and work close to bat roosts, and bat hunters, for example, are more at risk of bat-borne zoonotic disease spillover. Disease risk perceptions were generally low, with high levels of uncertainty, indicating the need for clearer information about personal protective practices.
The results of the study may well inform future risk communication strategies as well as help in developing effective responses to zoonotic disease risk, disease outbreaks and the conservation of bats in communities.