Behaviour change communication key in Covid-19

Friday, July 24th, 2020 00:00 |
A medic holds a vaccine. Photo/PD/COURTESY

In the last few days, we have had a scary headline of governors in some counties toying with the idea of mass graves and some agencies investing in body bags!

This must be the hallmark of a defeatist attitude and we probably need to use such worst case scenario projections to work on averting the worst in coming days. 

You see, the economic stimulus packages will amount to nothing if we go back to a lockdown, and it is difficult imagining Kenyans can stock up for even two days.

Suffice to say, Covid-19 needs three important dimensions that must be put into perspective and actioned by both the powers that be and the citizenry. 

First is strengthening of our healthcare system. Stories of governors investing in mass graves and body bags make very little sense when we know that health is a devolved function and counties received money months ago.

Before we talk of deaths, can’t we have a conversation around beds, PPEs, staffing and adequate trainings to handle Covid-19 cases in counties.

It is unfortunate and scary to see counties preparing  for the worst when they received resources to avert the spread of coronavirus.

We need to see equal healthcare preparedness in all counties, but a consequent strengthening of the entire system. 

The second dimension in this fight is political.  Slowing down spread of the virus is a priority for everyone .

It is appalling to see politicians roaming all over, hollering about 2022 and attracting large crowds with little regard for safety protocols.

This is unfortunate and probably the biggest contributor to perception that Covid-19 is not that serious .

If our politicians keep making it look as if it is business as usual, putting themselves, their loved ones and the general public in danger, how will the ordinary mwananchi be convinced there is a serious virus that calls for abnormal behaviour.  

In fact, most experts are silent on the fact that political and economic elites brought the disease into the country and are busy spreading it while telling folks at the bottom of the pyramid to stay at home, wear masks and sanitise. 

The last dimension is behaviour change communication through a serious hyper media campaign.

Besides difficulty in enforcing measures, lockdown fatigue, testing on symptomatic cases and clusters and hospitalisation reserved for critical cases, there seems to be a greater need to refocus our strategy.    

Communication experts are now calling for concerted effort in rolling out a behaviour change communication strategy.

Modelling behaviour change communication along the pathways where the virus can be transmitted in daily life is the next critical strategy in the fight.

A lot of focus has been put in protocols in formal settings such as offices yet folks in market places, rural areas are still wondering whether this is real.

Folks are borrowing masks to put up a show, yet it is in these settings that a lockdown would have a devastating impact on livelihoods. 

It is not enough to wear the mask, get to the market and pull down the mask to haggle for the price .

Neither is it prudent to get into a restaurant, put the mask on the table, use the salt shaker, eat and then put the mask back on.

What risks are inherent in these actions and how should we change our behaviours to mitigate them? 

We cannot live our lives normally, but we certainly need to communicate what kind of normal is  risky and how to deal with the risk.

We will get over Covid-19, but woe unto us if we don’t get to the other side with stronger health institutions.  — The writer is a research associate at Aga Khan University’s Graduate School of Media and Communications — [email protected]

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