• Thursday, May 23, 2024
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Coronavirus: Combating the pandemic through effective behaviour-change communication


Every major health disaster or pandemic such as the case of coronavirus COVID-19 often has the potential to trigger fear and cause anxiety which can bring about behaviours that may increase the inherent risk, thereby exposing more people to the danger of being contaminated, and by that, increase the spread, instead of containing it. People would likely contract diseases when they act out of fear emanating from wrong or inadequate information more than they would if they stayed well-informed and prepared.

Effective communication is essential during major health crises the goal of which is to model the right or expected behaviour and more importantly communicate such behaviour in a manner that would be easy and quick to imitate and replicate. Effective communication in health crises should seek to debunk rumours, myths and religion-induced and mostly unscientific views that are most likely to cause people to throw caution to the wind with the risk of further spread.

Ensuring the right attitudes and beliefs are fundamental to addressing the fears and negative behaviours towards any health crisis. When people are well-informed, they would take the right action voluntarily to avoid the spread of negative health conditions. In the same manner, they will have a very positive expectations that, by maintaining the right behaviours and by following laid down preventive procedures, there are high chances of avoiding the negative health conditions such as coronavirus and, more importantly, pass on their learned experiences, with the positive behaviour, to their circle of influence such as friends, family and business partners.

On the issue of coronavirus pandemic, there is already an uncountable number of media report which focuses on just informing the public about the extent of the spread of the virus, much to the extent of further creating anxiety and more panic instead of seeking to provide an answer to how the spread can be curtailed or prevented. These mass media report, at the moment, provide multi-angled analysis on the dimension of this health crisis and the expected consequences on the economy, on social relations and globalisation. Most of these media reports also seek to magnify and mystify the problem without necessarily speaking to possible solutions.

It is important to note that certain risky health behaviours, according to reliable sources and reports brought about the existence of the coronavirus. This was equally made worse by the decision of those who gained early wind about the outbreak, and the very poorly conceived decision to conceal or hide information regarding the existence of the virus. Early warning signals would have provided enough space for proper control and prevention or containment of the virus – again, it underscores the failure or poor management of information or perhaps the lack of appreciation of the role of communication in managing the health-related crisis.

So far, Nigeria has only recorded two reported cases, which have been adequately managed. However, it remains a source of important attention for the healthcare system to be prepared and ready, ensuring that in the case of an unexpected or the unforeseen outbreak, the necessary measure would be taken to arrest the situation.

Because of the nature of the disease and its mode of transmission, it is not unlikely that there are cases that are yet not detected and these can surface at the most unexpected time.

Effective communication thus becomes a vital tool in preparing and towards ending the pandemic.

Whether at the national, state and local government levels or in the corporate world, it is important to have a well-designed health communication plan and a behaviour-change policy or strategy that should be an integral part of national health communication policy, organisational policy, pre and post any epidemic or pandemic, as in the case of coronavirus.

While at the national level, there appears to be a regular update and briefing on the steps taken to combat coronavirus, not much is heard of at the state level, except in Lagos, and especially at local government levels, as it concerns concerted efforts to control the spread of the disease, bearing in mind that there is a shortage of primary health facilities in most rural areas in Nigeria.  In the same vein, it is not likely there is any well-thought-out and properly designed communication action plan addressing the information needs of the less educated rural residents who are not, in any way, insulated from the raging pandemic.

More still needs to be done in Nigeria in the area of designing appropriate behaviour change communication and effective messaging, and using the right language and channels to address this health crisis, and in promoting the right behaviours to dampen the possible risk associated with the wide and rapid spread of the virus.

Such behaviours as regular hand washing, keeping safe distances, avoiding large gatherings, ensuring proper hygiene at home and in public places as well as other helpful behaviours should be taught and encouraged, using every possible medium and language to demonstrate, and integrate such important behaviours, and mainstreaming same into the lifestyle of people, using the right channels, language and instruments to achieve the necessary results.

It is often said that old habits die hard, but effective communication can lead to a fast and easy change of behaviour.


Ikem is a communication expert and executive officer at Conversation Media Ltd