Behaviour Change Communication as a tool in curbing Covid-19

It is common knowledge that a big contributor for the spread of Covid in a country is the non-observance of the Covid health protocols by citizens. This is due to numerous reasons such as apathy, negative attitudes, resistance and circumstances. The Delta variant, currently the most dominant form of the virus in virtually all countries including Kenya, is a clear beneficiary of this. It has a high infection rate, and that combined with the widespread non-adherence to Covid protocols means its rapid spread is virtually unhindered.

In Kenya, the authorities have been relying more on beseeching, threats and intimidations to get Kenyans to cooperate with restrictions. Our security agencies have the unenviable task of enforcing this and unfortunately, they do this through a combination of threats, intimidations and outright brutality which so far has resulted in the deaths of many of our fellow Kenyans. We can all agree that the current strategy does not seem to be working that well.

As a public health issue, enlisting the cooperation of the public in fighting Covid is more effective than giving them marching orders. This is where social and behaviour change communication (SBCC) comes in. As Mutahi Kagwe, the cabinet secretary for health keeps reminding us, the government cannot police everyone to ensure we all observe the Covid protocols.

As a strategy in communication, SBCC is ideally suited for health crises such as pandemics. It is used to encourage and promote widespread adoption of recommended healthy practices and positive behaviour by the public that aids in tackling a pandemic. If utilized effectively, resources meant for enforcement can be saved or redirected towards helping the public fight the pandemic.

Human behaviour is complex. It is influenced by several entities and a proper approach towards SBCC has to appreciate this. Public awareness campaigns and programs designed around SBCC have to properly utilize these influences for maximum efficiency.

Our initial level of influence is our own individual knowledge, attitudes, emotions and beliefs. They vary from one person to the next. This means that our reactions to health guidelines will also be varied. Some of us will take the health guidelines seriously, others will not.

Our peer networks are another big influence to our attitudes and reactions towards health guidelines. These are our families, our friends and our colleagues. They enrich our knowledge and lead by example on how to behave. If they practice positive health protocols, we are more likely to follow suit and vice versa.

Community is the next big influence we have in our lives. Its members include our neighbours, those passengers sitting next to us in matatus, our fellow shoppers, our political and religious leaders, our bodaboda riders and mama mbogas. Leaders in these communities have great influence on the behaviour of members. If they are seen observing the Covid protocols, members will follow suit.

Structures in society that encourage observance of health protocols are also major influences in our lives. We are more likely to observe Covid protocols if support structures exist to support us in this. It is not enough to announce restrictions; adequate supportive facilities should accompany them to make it easier for citizens to obey the restrictions. Such supportive facilities include policies, resources, guidance, media, technology and health systems.

This pandemic is not going away anytime soon. Citizen apathy towards Covid protocols is real. Getting a weary population to continue observing Covid protocols now and into the foreseeable future with the same discipline that they began with is no easy task. It calls for a rethink of the approaches currently being employed. It calls for inclusive strategies and looking at the citizens as partners in this; not just subjects that need to be instructed.