Expert: Supplying masks at low prices positively changed people’s behaviour

Simple and accessible usage of technology often has solved some of the biggest problems of humankind globally, says Prof Ahmed Mushfiq Mobarak

Bangladesh has successfully changed the people’s behaviour in wearing masks amid the pandemic by making them available at a cheap price, Ahmed Mushfiq Mobarak, a professor of economics at Yale University, said.

The Bangladeshi economist was speaking at the roundtable on incorporating behavioural science into health policy organized by the World Health Organization (WHO) on Friday on the sidelines of the 75th World Health Assembly in Geneva.

“We conducted research on 350,000 people in rural Bangladesh to see what initiatives actually influence to change their behaviour and wear masks. We tried 20 different techniques. Of them, only four were successful. The most successful one was to supply the mask at cheap prices, which we found to be the biggest reason behind this shift,” said Mobarak.

The professor said he noticed from his experience that the simple and accessible usage of technology often has solved some of the biggest problems of humankind globally and still continues to do so. 

“If we look in Africa, the widespread problem of malaria was solved with bednets and epic diseases like diarrhoea were solved with toilets in countries like India, where open defecation is very normal.”

“In my country Bangladesh, food security has always been a big concern but that also has been tackled lately through the green revolution. Agricultural technology such as hybrid seeds, desert tolerant crops, and saline resistance have played a role to ensure food security for a country of 160 million people,” he added. 

Mobarak also shared some key insights on how to influence people to bring change in their behaviour from his vast research experiences. 

According to him, six factors should be considered before designing any campaign for a community. They are cost efficiency, persuasion with information, risk aversion, decision-maker of the house, social norms, and indigenous solutions of the designated community. 

Focusing on such issues and identification of the key stakeholders of these barriers is the key to tackling challenges in the public health sector, opined the academician.