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Brac’s efforts to mask up Bangladesh could be game-changer

  • Published at 09:44 pm July 15th, 2021
mask people
File photo of people wearing masks walking on a street in Dhaka amid the Covid-19 pandemic Mehedi Hasan/Dhaka Tribune

The CFRC project, currently operational in 35 districts that include the border areas, is inspired by the NORM model

Since the beginning of the pandemic early last year, wearing face masks has remained one of the most crucial preventive measures against Covid-19.

Despite ceaseless efforts by the authorities and health experts, getting the wearing of masks to be a habit among people continues to be a public health challenge for Bangladesh.

In this context, Brac’s Community Fort in Resisting Covid-19 (CFRC) project has been working to find sustainable ways to make such preventive measures a norm in local communities.

“Our main goal is to make Covid preventive measures, like wearing face masks, a norm since we do not know how long we have to deal with this pandemic,” said Morseda Chowdhury, director of Brac's Health, Nutrition and Population Program (HNPP).

“The forming of a habit doesn’t happen overnight. People need to be reminded constantly to wear masks and eventually it will become a habit,” she furthered.

As Eid-ul-Azha is approaching and restrictions on movement have been eased since Wednesday to allow pre-Eid business and trade, and ease homebound journeys, Brac volunteers will be in the field providing free masks.  

The CFRC project, currently operational in 35 districts, mostly in the border areas, is inspired by the NORM model.

A 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 mosque imams and other community leaders; promotion of masks through videos and brochures; and polite interventions.


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


These interventions have increased the rate of mask-wearing from 13% to 42%.

However, the greatest impact was observed after the polite intervention method was applied.

Speaking to Dhaka Tribune, Mushfiq Mobarak, a professor of economics at Yale University, said: “Providing masks door-to-door is important because if you want social norms to change, you cannot leave anyone with any excuses.”

Prof Mubarak convinced Hanes, a US apparel company, to donate 80 million masks to Bangladesh. The masks will soon be brought to Bangladesh by Brac and later distributed through its nationwide CFRC project, its partners and representatives.

“We made the case to Hanes that if they can donate the masks, we have the model to ensure that they will be properly and consistently used in a way that would save lives,” Prof Mubarak added.

He also told this correspondent that the NORM model had led to persistent changes in the habit of wearing face masks even after interventions ended.

“Such results motivated us in promoting this model to governments and implementers around the world. This program is now operational not only in Bangladesh but also in neighbouring India, Pakistan and Nepal,” said Prof Mobarak.

A total of 6,915 existing community groups have been activated in community clinics across the country so far.

Around 111,113 community group members are currently raising awareness on preventive measures, signs and symptoms of Covid-19.

The high-risk districts where Brac is implementing this project are Mymensingh, Sherpur, Kishoreganj, Tangail, Jamalpur, Gazipur, Narayanganj, Dhaka, Jhenaidah, Bagerhat, Satkhira, Jessore, Chuadanga, Narail, Khulna, Magura, Brahmanbaria, Comilla, Habiganj, Sylhet, Rajshahi, Chapainawabganj, Bogra, Joypurhat, Natore, Bhola, Barisal, Dinajpur, Rangpur, Lalmonirhat, Cox's Bazar, Chittagong, Feni, Noakhali and Chandpur.

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