South Africa: COVID-19 and Behaviour Change - Why Are We Not Wearing Masks?


How the Covid-19 pandemic unfolds in the coming months is in our hands. It will be our behaviour, not medicines or ventilators, that will determine the severity of its impact. This has been the repeated message from public health experts, our health minister, and our president.

We as a country, and particularly the Department of Health, have done the important work of disseminating accurate information in the early stages of the pandemic. However, we are now at a point where we need a more complex approach if we have any hope of achieving the deeper and more sustained behaviour changes that are required.

We know what we need to do. Wear a mask in public, wash hands frequently and keep our distance. Getting people to adopt these behaviours seems as if it should be simple. We think that spending millions on catchy slogans and beautiful billboards, pamphlets, and public service announcements will work.

If we do this frequently enough people will change their behaviour, right? Unfortunately, the evidence shows that this is not the case. If it did, few of us would smoke, abuse alcohol or contract HIV/Aids.

Changing behaviours

Fortunately, there is a wealth of evidence gleaned from both...

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