The Power of Behavior Change

USAID-ebola-burial-practicesThe journal Nature has a special on Ebola, collecting all its reporting on the virus in one place. One of those articles, Models overestimate Ebola cases, is on the failure of mathematical models to accurately predict the epidemic’s course. In an interesting letter responding to that article, the authors credit “altered cultural perception” that allowed for behavior change, changing the course of the epidemic for the better.

Below is the text of the response. The letter, along with others from the November 26th issue, can be found here on Nature’s website.

Ebola: the power of behaviour change

Without including social, cultural and behavioural responses to the Ebola epidemic, models may overestimate outbreak size (Nature 515, 18; 2014).

Behavioural response, triggered by an epidemic, can slow down or even stop virus transmission (see S. Funk et al. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 106, 68726877; 2009). Indeed, altered cultural perception in response to the disease enabled people’s behaviour to change in ways that helped to contain outbreaks in the past (see B. S. Hewlett and R. P. Amola Emerg. Infect. Dis. 9, 12421248; 2003).

Reports from Foya in Liberia indicate that the outbreak there is now in decline. A local information campaign to change funeral practices and other behaviours seems to have paid off.

More aid and more personnel are urgently needed, but so is the involvement of local communities and the provision of information that can help to contain this epidemic.

Sebastian Funk, Gwenan M. Knight London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, London, UK.
Vincent A. A. Jansen Royal Holloway University of London, Egham, Surrey, UK.


Lisa Cobb

Lisa Cobb has over 15 years experience in public health and health communication. She has worked in many areas of health communication, from counseling self-neglecting elders in the US, to teaching health classes in Turkmenistan, to designing and overseeing large and complex programs at scale. In her role as a Senior Program Officer for Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs, Ms. Cobb provides leadership, oversight and technical guidance to programs in Nigeria and Kenya, using her expertise in program design, strategic planning and management to ensure programs meet their goals. Ms. Cobb has expertise in applying communication interventions to multiple health areas, including family planning and reproductive health, maternal and child health, HIV prevention and malaria, and has used those skills in numerous countries in Europe and Eurasia, the Near East and Africa.

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