The Guidelines Need Some Guidance

January 18, 2021

Since the first detection of COVID-19 cases in Bangladesh on March 8, 2020, a total of 528329 people have been infected and 7922 died in the country, according to official records. Fighting an unprecedented pandemic like COVID-19 has been a challenge for Bangladesh, a country with limited resources and a dense population . The government’s efforts to control the spread of the disease by introducing a nationwide lockdown has not been very successful. It seems that Bangladeshi mass people are not very keen to abide by the prevention guidelines. Why so? There have been a lot of speculations and memes on social media about this issue. Let us look into some facts and do some investigation.

Who Cares?

Bangladesh government has provided general health guidelines and instructions for the public on how to prevent transmission of COVID-19. The messages have been delivered through various channels – mass media, public announcements, mobile  messages, etc. as well as via many other NGOs. 

Since October 2020, the government has declared that wearing face mask is mandatory in all government and private offices. 

Despite these campaigns, getting the public to follow the guidelines has been a cause of headache. Thousands of people gathered around in the country during the lockdown, disobeying government orders. Mobile courts have been fining people occasionally for not wearing masks. But a large portion of the people on the streets still do not use masks.

The Communication Gap

Evidently, people are not getting the right information in the right way. In May 2020, BRAC Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD) published a rapid research report on the matter. Their findings show that:

  • People are confused about the words such as “quarantine” and “lockdown”.
  • Many people do not accept or understand the importance or meaning of “social distancing”.
  • The message “stay at home” is confusing too. Rural people’s concept of “home” is quite different from that of the urban middle class. To them, home is not a single house, but a collection of several houses in close proximity.
  • It is impossible to stay isolated in slum areas, as several people live there in each small room.
  • Most of the people do not know about proper hand washing method. Sometimes they even confuse “20 seconds” and “20 minutes”.
  • People are not aware about why it is important to wear masks. They just think that it is another government instruction, which some people follow symbolically, in the fear of law enforcement, or to comply with social pressure.
  • Many people find it rude to wear mask while talking to elders or customers.
  • Rural people do not have the concept of microscopic organisms. So, they are more confused by the symbolic graphic representations of Coronavirus shown on TV.
  • Many local religious leaders preach wrong concepts of the disease. Local people tend to believe and depend upon their words.

To summarize, public communication approaches and materials regarding COVID-19 in Bangladesh lack an understanding of socio-cultural context. Moreover, there is a lot of misinformation on social media, and sometimes on mainstream media as well.

Expert Opinion

Tareq Salahuddin

Public Health Communication Specialist

“Habit doesn’t change overnight.”

What to Do

Most importantly, the government and other public health communicators must understand the socio-cultural context of Bangladesh, and design the messages accordingly. It is necessary to develop tailor-made messages for different communities and social groups, and target them with appropriate communication channels. Including religious leaders to disseminate proper information may be useful for rural areas. Moreover, the people must be told about the disease and its risks, and about the health guidelines again and again, in such a way that is easy to understand. Besides rules and punishment, there should be other activities to encourage people in following the guidelines. People who are already aware can also make a difference by spreading the awareness on a personal level.

Reference Links

Shahrear Kabir Heemel