The World Health Organization convened its first Technical Advisory Group on Behavioural Insights and Sciences for Health.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has taught the world that public health agencies and experts need a better understanding of how people and societies behave and make decisions in relation to their health," said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General
of WHO, to whom the Technical Advisory Group will report. "WHO wants to ensure that such understanding and evidence inform every policy, guideline and programme.”
Following a global call which attracted over 200 applications from 47 countries, some 21 advisers have been selected to represent a variety of countries and expertise in related disciplines, to design and implement policies and programmes –
not only in terms of COVID-19, but on public health in general.
Psychology, anthropology, health promotion, social and behavioural sciences, neurosciences, behavioural economics, social marketing, design thinking and epidemiology are some of the areas of expertise of the members that come from government agencies,
academia, international organizations and civil society – and are now to provide advice to WHO on a range of topics.
While behavioural and social sciences have for decades studied human behaviour, decision making and social and cultural drivers, past years have seen a growing integration into policies and programmes - ultimately translating into increased efficiency
and better health.
“Providing evidence-based advice is central to WHO's mission, but for that advice to produce results and save lives, we need to better understand the biases and triggers that affect whether or not people act on it,” Dr Tedros said.
The creation of the technical advisory group is part of a new behavioural insights and sciences initiative, expected to give a more prominent role and louder voice to disciplines that have social and behavioural sciences in common – in the context
of health. In addition to supporting the design of global policies, other outcomes of this sharpened focus are more defined methods, tools and mechanisms to support how WHO’s regional and country offices gather local and contextual evidence
for a better understanding of individual and community behaviour.
The establishment of the Advisory Group is in line with WHO’s 13th Global Programme of Work for the 2019-2023 period which aims at 1 billion more people benefitting from universal health coverage; 1 billion more people better protected from health emergencies; and 1 billion more people enjoying better health and well-being.
The image above captures the diversity of disciplines and areas of work that contributes to understanding human behaviour to improve health policies and programmes. The contributions were discussed by the members of the Technical Advisory Group during the introductory meeting on July 20, 2020. Click here to download image in full size
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New research helps to increase understanding of the impact of COVID-19 for pregnant women and their babies
New research findings published today in the BMJ helps to shed light on the risks of COVID-19 for pregnant women and their babies. The paper suggests that pregnant women seen at the hospital with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 are less likely to experience a fever or muscle pain, but if they develop severe disease they are more likely to need intensive care than non-pregnant women with COVID-19.
This is first paper of a ‘living systematic review’; ongoing, global, research which is collecting and synthesising data on the situation for pregnant women with COVID-19 in countries worldwide. It has been led by researchers at the University of Birmingham, UK, the World Health Organization, and the Special Programme HRP alongside other collaborators.Pre-existing medical conditions
Evidence currently suggests that people who are non-white, are older, who are overweight and/or have a pre-existing medical condition, are more vulnerable to severe disease due to COVID-19. According to the findings published today, pregnant women with COVID-19, who have pre-existing medical conditions, such as diabetes or chronic high blood pressure, or those who are older or overweight, are also more likely to suffer severe health complications due to COVID-19.Mercedes Bonet, an author of the study comments, “The evidence shows us that having pre-existing health conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure, puts you at greater risk, whether or not you are pregnant.”
These findings underline the need for pregnant women and recently pregnant women to take all precautions to avoid COVID-19 disease, in particular if they have underlying conditions.Risks for newborn babies and women
The research findings show that pregnant or recently pregnant women with COVID-19 were more likely to give birth prematurely. The findings also show that 1 in 4 of all babies born to women with COVID-19, were admitted to a neonatal unit but data on causes of preterm births or indications for admission to neonatal units among these babies is lacking. Stillbirth and newborn death rates however were low.Implications for healthcare
It is important healthcare providers are aware that pregnant women with COVID-19 and their newborn babies may be more likely to need specialist care, and that women and their babies have access to this care. This is particularly true for pregnant women with COVID-19 alongside other co-morbidities.
In addition it is crucial to stress that whether or not a woman has COVID-19, her right to a positive pregnancy and childbirth experience must be ensured. Read more
It is also important to recognise the increased stress and anxiety caused by COVID-19 which may be particularly felt by pregnant women, recently-pregnant women, and their partners, children, and families; healthcare providers have a role in responding to pregnant women in an appropriate and compassionate way.