By Penny Carothers
Dr. Om Prasad Gautam was a handwashing champion before any of us had heard of the novel coronavirus and COVID-19. And while he’s pleased to see governments everywhere encouraging handwashing as a primary defense against the disease, he doesn’t believe that what you could call the coronavirus effect will increase handwashing worldwide once the crisis is over.
That’s because Dr. Om has seen and studied disease outbreaks and the role of handwashing. At first, there is an uptick in handwashing, but inevitably that upward trend plummets once the threat retreats. Understanding this phenomenon is central to his work on behavior change. Knowledge and fear, though heady motivators in the face of a pandemic, do not lead to the kind of long-term behavioral change we need to combat the next pandemic, not to mention the everyday epidemic of diarrheal diseases in low- and middle-income countries.