Behavior Change Essential for Controlling Infectious Diseases


By Emmanuel Many

Goal three of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals is to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.[i]  Behavior change is an essential part of sanitation programs, whether to improve the uptake of sanitation solutions, hygienic practices in households or, indeed, in the institutions responsible for sanitation programming (World Health Organization, 2018). [ii] 

The days of the pandemic have clearly underscored the significance of behavior change in the fight against deadly infectious diseases. There are a few behavioral insights that have been ignored before, by many societies, yet they are very critical for prevention of infectious diseases. 

On Friday morning, an unidentified man driving a car with a COVID sticker, went to a gas station for fuel.  Towards the end of fueling he sneezed uncontrollably three times onto lubrication jerrycans about 2 meters across.  Evidently, the flu was hard on him.  Even a 4-meter social distance once advised by His Excellency President Museveni would still have remained risky if any human being was in the same direction he was facing.  Hopefully that was just a fierce flu.  I don’t think he can even be traced now; you couldn’t even guess his nationality by just looking at him.  But we can take that incidence as an eye-opener.

Learning to sneeze safely requires practice as it is usually involuntary.  Parents have a role in teaching their children safe hygiene and sanitation practices.  The CIVID-19 experiences can help to know the significance of including safe sneezing and disposal, in programs that include information dissemination. Distribution can be focused on all people; international and local residents, rural and urban communities. 

Some years back some rural elderly people used to spit even inside their houses.  Workers using tools could be seen frequently spitting in their hands to ensure a tight grip of the agricultural tool they would be holding.  For us the town boys and girls, we tried to be nicer by not doing all that.  We thought sneezing or yawning into hands was a best practice.  Now it’s clear that is unhealthy as well. 

The best approach might be for us to individually uphold best practices rather than wait for everyone to change at the same time.  Safety precaution is more important; washing hands regularly, using masks and observing social distance until the Government can advise when it will be safe to return to normal.  But there are practices that should also be changed; our behavior.  If we care for one another we’ll do things that equally protect our neighbors and other members of our community as well.  We should teach children these best practices to protect them, their friends, neighbors and community.  Everything comes back to family level. We need to teach our children how to sneeze properly alongside other essential measures.

The Writer is the Africa Team Leader, Hope Community Action Africa.

[i]   United Nations. Sustainable Development Goals. Retrieved June 27, 2020, from

[ii] World Health Organization. Guidelines on Sanitation and Health. Retrieved June 27, 2020, from

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