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Use behavioural science to fight COVID-19

Use behavioural science to fight COVID-19
An effective public health strategy to curb COVID-19 needs to take into consideration the psychological and behavioral aspects. Photo/File
KUALA LUMPUR: An effective public health response to curb COVID-19 needs to incorporate not just a medical strategy, but also psychological and behavioural science.

According to consulting psychologist Dr Brendan Gomez, to ensure the government’s Movement Control Order (MCO) is effective in slowing down the spread of the virus, a change of behaviour is required from the public.

“For most of us, we are mentally and physically preoccupied with this virus. This has exposed our vulnerability as a human species.

“We are not prepared for this large scale global disaster. If ever we thought of such a scale of an attack, we would have expected it from terrorists, from a nuclear war. But not from a tiny virus,” he said during on ‘Consider This’ on Friday night.  
Dr Brendan believes that it is imperative to first understand the factors driving public behaviour in order to get them adhere to restriction orders. 

“We need to look at what motivates and drives public behaviour. Currently, fear is the motivating factor for all of us. The fear of not having enough food, fear of not having enough necessities, fear of not being close to families, fear of not having a job or a business that will survive. These are real fears.
“It’s easy to say ‘Oh these people are stubborn, they’re so selfish’. Yes, some, maybe. But knowing Malaysians, we have seen how people can come together driven by common concerns.

“So we need to know, how to harness this behavioural drive, to get people to co-operate with national efforts, to curb the spread of COVID-19,” he said.



Dr Brendan also made several suggestions on how the government can adopt behavioural science when rolling out new measures under the MCO.

“Firstly, the government needs to work collaboratively with behavioural experts as they do with medical security professionals. The biggest change takes place when behavioural learning takes place. We need to understand how to make these announcements attractive enough, relevant enough for people to pay attention to them and follow.

“Secondly, we need to get the citizens on our side and deputise them as collaborators. We must activate the communities and neighbourhoods to lead the way in spreading the message of compliance of MCO.

“Another way is to provide assurance of basic necessities such as food. Not just verbally, but having people in the neighbourhood or representatives in checking if there are enough supplies in the supermarket.

“Thirdly, we must empower individuals, families and what they can do at home to stay sane and well. It’s important in terms of mental health,” he said.

Based on the National Health and Morbidity Survey 2017 by the Health Ministry, the prevalence of mental health issues among Malaysian is 29%.

“We don’t want to worsen the statistics,” he said.

On Sunday, the military will be deployed nationwide to assist the police in enforcing the MCO as the country’s total number of confirmed cases has climbed over 1,000, with eight fatalities.

The latest COVID-19 pandemic has infected more than 271,000 people and killed more than 11,000 across the world.