Why behaviour change?

Behaviour change is the most cost-effective and rapid way to increase coverage of life-saving interventions, such as breastfeeding, and thus to reduce child mortality (read more about the relative cost-effectiveness of this and other approaches).

Adopting healthy behaviours can save the lives of young children: for example, the breastfeeding of infants under two years of age has the potential to prevent 1.4 million deaths in children under five in the developing world.

Many people cannot recognise when their child has a potentially dangerous illness, or do not know what to do about it, so many deaths are due to lack of knowledge rather than lack of healthcare services. If a mother can recognise that her baby has diarrhoea and is able to provide her child with oral rehydration therapy, then the child is far more likely to reach the age of five.

However, providing information alone is not enough. For example, most people know that they should wash their hands after defaecation and before meals, but few do so as often as they should. This is even true of developed countries, where access to water and soap is universal. In most developing countries, a majority of the population does not have regular access to sanitation facilities, and people need to be supported to overcome the practical and financial barriers to changing their behaviours. Our campaigns take these barriers into account and develop innovative ways of helping people to overcome them. 

Cultural and social factors can also prevent people from changing their behaviours. For example, a belief that leprosy is caused by a divine curse rather than by bacteria, and the social stigma that is attached to it as a result, prevents people from coming forward for treatment. We tackled this belief head-on in a television campaign in Nepal.

We are currently designing health behaviour change campaigns in 10 African countries and are looking for partners and funders through our Media Million Lives initiative.