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Study: Polite intervention more effective than punishment to encourage mask wearing

  • Published at 06:27 pm May 8th, 2021
covid-19 masks
Md Manik/Dhaka Tribune

Altogether, four types of interventions increased the rate of mask wearing from 13% to 42%

Polite intervention is more effective than punishment to encourage mask wearing in Bangladesh, according to a recent study by a team of researchers.

The team of researchers, including Yale SOM’s Jason Abaluck and Mushfiq Mobarak, tested four types of interventions to encourage people to wear masks: free masks distributed directly to households, at mosques and markets; endorsements from imams and other community leaders; promotion of masks through videos and brochures; and polite interventions. 

The researchers partnered with the NGO, Innovations for Poverty Action, to conduct the study on 340,000 people across 600 villages. Surveillance staff were assigned to observe and record the prevalence of mask-wearing in markets, mosques, tea-stalls and at the main entrances to villages after the intervention methods were implemented.

Altogether the four types of interventions increased the rate of mask wearing from 13% to 42%. However, the greatest impact was observed after the polite intervention method was applied.

Explaining the polite intervention method, development economist Mushfiq Mobarak said: “We deployed people to monitor areas for people who were not wearing masks. If someone was found not wearing a mask, the monitors would politely ask them why they were not wearing one and to put one on. If people said they did not have masks, the monitors would offer them free surgical masks. 

“People do not seem to worry too much about the threat of punishment or legal sanctions, even if village police are out in the open. However, this more informal sanction of having to deal with the awkwardness of the conversation when confronted about not wearing masks seemed to work. People’s desire to avoid that little bit of shame was a good motivator,” he added.

The researchers and their NGO partners are already working with governments to implement the interventions identified in the study.  They are also reaching out to the World Health Organization, World Bank and regional leaders in Bangladesh, Pakistan and India.

“We have realized that we need to create what we call implementation toolkits, with all these details laid out clearly for them, and then we can directly talk to government staff, not only at the high level, but also to people who would be working at the field level as well as mid-level bureaucrats,” Mobarak said.   

Mobarak and his team recommended free masks distribution door-to-door, offering information on mask wearing via video and brochures, reinforcement of health safety measures in-person and in-public, as well as modeling and endorsement by trusted leaders to help reinforce these key elements. 

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