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Change Behavior to Beat Covid-19.

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Moses Charedzera

A cursory look at Zimbabwe would suggest Covid-19 is a thing of the past. People are now going about their normal business. Masks have largely become ornamental and social distance forgotten.

Numbers of people moving around in most urban centres have largely increased. Some churches have re-opened and others are now busy polishing up plans for resumption of services while schools are scheduled to open for exam classes on the 28th of July 2020.

If this were happening amidst declining cases there would indeed be reason to celebrate.
Sadly infection shave significantly spiked. Numbers of people with Covid-19 are now past 500 against single digit figures just a few weeks back.

While official communication continues to emphasise the supremacy of saving lives ahead of the economy, word on the street shows the stomach has greater priority.

Perhaps this speaks to Zimbabwe’s economic vulnerability and government‘s inability to cushion members of society.

In the past week South Africa has also registered an alarming increase in both infections and number of deaths.

This does not seem to be dissuading Zimbabweans from either jumping the border into the country or smuggling goods from across the Limpopo river.

Against all this, there is a temptation to believe that the message of Covid-19 is not being heard.
Our research suggests this is not true. The average Zimbabwean not only knows about the pandemic but is clear that this is a potentially lethal disease. 

People have simply chosen to act as they do because life must go on but enforcement on various measures is weak.

In shops, the security guards are content to ensure that hands are sanitised and temperature is taken. What happens in the shops is the responsibility of the shopper.

As people walk in town the responsibility to social distance has been left to their own volition.
The same applies to the work place. Non-governmental organisations that initially appeared enthusiastic to pour funds into educating the public on Covid-19 now seem to have developed cold feet.

Even mining areas are now reluctant to preach the message despite the risk their businesses and employees face.

Society‘s propensity to adapt to challenges has become its greatest undoing. The mind seems to have reached some saturation point and convinced itself that the threat is not that real.

 This is similar to living in the war zone. The sound of guns no longer scare people anymore, except of course this does not mean bullets don’t kill.

The challenge for communicators is to push for behavioral change amidst this form of resistance and reluctance.

For starters, messages must be changed. Tactics must be re-evaluated. The same society must be reactivated and re-energised and taken as part of broader communication. Perhaps there has been too much preaching instead of a genuine bottom up programming where the recipient of the message becomes the driver of the message.

In all this, the idea should be to ensure that the evident fatigue does not get people to believe covid-19 has become any less deadly. Message reminders at public meeting points need to be introduced.

Chances are that the need to conform is forcing many genuine people not do the right thing. In such instances there must be deliberate ways of empowering the few complying to feel comfortable in doing the right thing.

The Ministry of Health and Child Care has promoters within the ministry. These must be utilised a little more as well as working closely with well-developed infrastructure of peer educators in each community.  Each message from radio of whatever medium must be linked to a champion on the ground who ensures that behavior is modified. 

The onset on the flu season in Zimbabwe makes it more urgent for everyone to put mind together to ensure that covid-19 does not take the path it has in places like this Brazil and the United States of America.    

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