Dispatches from the Behavioral Scientists Fighting Coronavirus in the Global South

Introduction by Neela Saldanha & Sakshi Ghai: “We are in the middle of a global pandemic, one that has infected more than 35 million people worldwide and killed over 1 million. Almost nine months after the World Health Organization declared the novel coronavirus a “public health emergency of international concern,” the primary strategies we have to prevent the spread of an invisible and often deadly virus are behavioral—keeping a distance, wearing masks, washing hands. No wonder behavioral science has been thrust into the spotlight. Behavioral scientists have been advising national and local governments, as well as health institutions around the world about the best ways to help people collectively adhere to new behaviors.

Although the pandemic rages globally, 7 of the 10 worst outbreaks in the world are in countries in the Global South. These countries have very different social, cultural, and economic contexts from those in the Global North. Mitigating the pandemic in these countries is not simply a matter of importing recommendations from the north. As Saugato Dutta pointed out, “advice that can seem grounded in universal human tendencies must be careful not to ignore the context in which it is applied.”

What are the elements of context that we need to attend to? What issues are behavioral scientists in Nairobi or New Delhi grappling with as they tackle the virus? What can we learn from the interventions deployed in Brazil or in the Philippines? And how can these lessons inspire the rest of the world?

We thought the best way to understand these questions was simply to ask behavioral scientists in those countries. And so, in this special collection, we have curated dispatches from behavioral scientists in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and South America to learn what’s different about tackling coronavirus.

Our goal is to learn from the work they have done, understand the unique challenges they face, and get their view on what behavioral science needs to focus on to benefit the 80 percent of the world population that lives in these countries. We also hope that this collection will spark ideas and seed collaborations among behavioral scientists in the Global South and North alike. The current situation demands it….(More)”.