By Nana Sifa Twum
The sudden emergence of the Coronavirus and its rampant spread and its devastating effect on social, political, educational, health, economic, religious and family lives around the globe have necessitated proactive and pragmatic protective guidelines and protocols that, arguably, will change the way of life forever.
Circumstances are such that mankind now has to live according to the dictates of the behaviours of the novel coronavirus, which is otherwise known as COVID -19. The protection of oneself, and others around, has been the major concern to governments and health managers.
Citizens around the world are aggressively being educated with all the needed facts, and also being fervently urged to take appropriate precautions. In some instances, people who have, for one reason or the other, flouted the protocols have been made to face the laws of the land.
The connotation here is that such individuals are not only putting themselves at risk, but also jeopardizing the efforts of governments in the fight against the disease, which in fact took the entire world unawares.
To help prevent the spread of the disease, which is spread chiefly as a result of movement of persons, people in this regard have been encouraged to protect themselves by appropriately adhering to precautions provided by public health authorities.
People are advised to clean their hands as often as possible with soap and under running water. The use of an alcohol-based hand rub or sanitizers is known to be key in this fight.
Maintaining a safe distance from one another, advisably two meters apart, in any form of engagement, is paramount and highly recommended. Coughing and sneezing must not be done without covering the mouth and the nose with a disposable material or into a bent elbow. Touching of the eyes, nose or mouth is strictly prohibited.
Perhaps, the most alien of all the protocols is the wearing of nose mask. This is known to be the sole practice of the health and other professionals working in dangerous work terrains. Staying at home is the brassiest message for all even when one feels unwell.
The effective practicing of all these call for a behavioural change. Today, it appears people are fundamentally being denied what they love doing and rather practicing what is not normal in their daily lives. From whatever angle this is looked at, it is naturally extremely difficult. It calls for a very high sense of self-discipline, and the commitment to achieve a meaningful purpose.
The Apostle Paul, in the good old book, the Bible, puts it this way: “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh; for I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.”
Many of the protocols outlined in the fight against the Coronavirus are extremely good but appear alien in a way to our usual way of life as Africans and Ghanaians, for that matter. Social distancing, for instance, could be best described as anti-Ghanaian. For handshaking, it could be best described as an embodiment of the DNA of the Ghanaian. So, in some cases, these are done spontaneously and unconsciously as they have been practiced all one’s life time.
During and after lockdown and, perhaps, for a very long time to come, these protocols will continue to be part of our way of life. So, alongside the numerous interventions, serious view and focus must be on how effectively the people could adapt to the new way of life.
Circumstances and projections by health managers are such that Coronavirus will, at least, linger around for a while. The need for the continuation of public health protocols is therefore paramount to the survival of mankind.
Therefore, the media, churches and mosques, government information and education structures, will have to go ‘beyond the limit’ to help sensitise and educate the populace on the urgent need to adapt effectively to the protocols. More importantly, the application of pragmatic behavioural change methods around the country is key in winning the fight against the unseen foe.
Behavioural change communication is the most vital for the initiation and sustaining as well as the enactment of these protocols as an integral part of social and public behaviour. This is known to have been used to promote health and other behavior against diseases around the globe.
Effective behaviour change communication strategy is always key in ensuring all behavioural aspect of disease prevention and control. Under this, the provision of accurate, clear, relevant and timely information to the public on how to contain the emergency and protect themselves against the virus is discussed, agreed and implemented.
It can also identify and address the myths and misconceptions that have led to detrimental practices such as nose and mouth masking and hand washing.
Every other technique used to change behaviour, especially in relation to health, is absolutely important in the country, especially this era, for the determination of how successful all other interventions are helping to fight the disease.
As a matter of importance and urgency, all governmental agencies, especially the Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies (MMDAs), must employ special locally adapted behavioural change strategy to work on the psyches of citizens.
The coronavirus has come with huge negative effects, but there is the need for pragmatic measures to cope with the new way of life. Apart from the local adaptation, there is also the need to take advantage of the disease to solve many problems that have bedeviled the nation over the years.
We are looking at reducing attendance at our various markets, reducing the number of passengers on board commercial vehicles and domestic flights, and to reduce staff numbers at the various workplaces.
Many businesses have resorted to allow their staff to work from home. Working from home, because of health protocols under this circumstance, must be absolutely observed while life also goes on. The disease has made it possible, through the use of information technology, for many people to work from home. Many companies have taken advantage of the Internet and allow their employees to telecommute. Meetings have been held over internet technologies. Others have chosen to use the international marketplace to expand their job pool and hire freelancers from all over the world.
Internet sales during this period have shot to the highest ever in history. All these have some kind of bearing on the economy and also new to the social life of the Ghanaian, therefore conscientization through effective behavior change communication is needed.
Indications are that many Ghanaians have still not understood the reason why they have to observe the protocols. Even those who have the understanding of the situation also have some difficulties to observe, some of them deliberate but others, “the spirit is willing and the fresh is weak.”
Admittedly, human behaviour is a complex phenomenon, which is chiefly influenced by factors within the individual and beyond. It is noted that Social Ecological Model, for instance, recognizes four levels of influence that interact to affect behaviour. These are the individual, family or peer networks, community and social. Behaviour is also affected by factors within the individual. Examples include knowledge, attitudes, skills, emotions and beliefs. Effective behaviour change communication strategy will help address all these.
Under the issue at stake, it is important to look at the individual who, in effect, affects the community, family as well as the social structure.
For individuals to practice the desired behaviours, they need to know the risks of transmission of the virus, and how to prevent it. They also need to feel that they are at risk of transmission, and they need the skills to practice protective behaviours. This calls for effective coordination mechanism, by-laws and policies to promote supportive norms around the desired behaviours.
Coronavirus, we are told by the experts, can be fought and defeated by the observance of the outlined protocols, which chiefly require the behavioural change we all need. The consciousness of the people must be wild awake to the psychological aspect of the fight against the disease, for we float or drown together.