COVID-19 is very contagious and easily transmitted between individuals. The main concern is that its infection can occur during the incubation period, even without symptoms. Thus, prevention is vital.
The World Health Organisation has taken multiple measures to reduce the likelihood of transmission and save lives. The main objectives are to disturb human-to-human transmission by breaching transmission chains, and to identify, isolate and care for patients.
Behaviour plays an important role in ensuring the objectives are met. Health behaviour is considered effective when the individuals are motivated and educated about the choices, with the surroundings and policies supporting healthy choices.
Various nudge-type interventions have been introduced to enhance health precautions and to help people to stay safe. For example, frequent handwashing, social distancing, avoiding contact with eyes, nose and mouth, practising proper sneezing and coughing etiquette, seeking medical care when symptomatic, staying informed and following the advice given by healthcare providers.
The ‘nudge’ has been used as a tool to influence, direct or move people to a particular choice. Many studies show nudge offers an effective way to influence people’s behaviour or decision-making without restricting their freedom of choice.
Nudges have also been effective in Europe and the United States in promoting a healthier diet, reducing utilisation of healthcare and decreasing healthcare costs.
The media and effective communication measures can influence the risk perception and protective behaviour of an individual. Nudges are found to be more effective when the messages highlight societal benefits rather than personal benefits, and when they offer informational reminders and educational opportunities.
The information should be simple and precise, so as to reduce the risk perception, fears, panic and misunderstanding of the pandemic. National, state and local governments, together with private agencies, have taken steps to implement protective behaviour to curb the transmission of the Covid-19 virus using nudge-type interventions.
Although no evaluation has been done of the intervention used, the nudges seem to be effective as most Malaysians are complying with the recommended protective behaviour.
The government has also ensured that legal action is taken against those responsible for spreading false or misleading information. The action compels people to act rationally and adopt protective behaviour.
The implementation of the Movement Control Order is a great challenge as it is not the norm for most people, especially for those who are working. In general, nudge interventions may promote consistency and compliance with protective behaviour, as well as better responses to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Therefore, continuous efforts are needed to evaluate the effectiveness and the best way to implement nudges. Allowing access to health data and empowering evidence-based assessment of nudge-based health policies may significantly improve health behaviour.
The establishment of a formal nudge unit in Malaysia is also recommended to systematically develop and test new approaches to improve healthcare delivery and outcomes.
Source: New Straits Times