Messages on Covid-19 Prevention in India Increased Symptoms Reporting and Adherence to Preventive Behaviors Among 25 Million Recipients with Similar Effects on Non-Recipient Members of Their Communities

40 Pages Posted: 14 Jul 2020

See all articles by Abhijit V. Banerjee

Abhijit V. Banerjee

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Department of Economics

Marcella Alsan

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS)

Emily Breza

Harvard University

Arun G. Chandrasekhar

Stanford University - Department of Economics

Abhijit Chowdhury

Institute of Post Graduate Medical Education and Research - School of Digestive and Liver Diseases

Esther Duflo

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Department of Economics; Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL); National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR); Bureau for Research and Economic Analysis of Development (BREAD)

Paul S. Goldsmith-Pinkham

Yale School of Management

Benjamin Olken

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Department of Economics

Date Written: July 2020

Abstract

During health crises, like COVID-19, individuals are inundated with messages promoting health-preserving behavior. Does additional light-touch messaging by a credible individual change behavior? Do the features of the message matter? To answer this, we conducted a large-scale messaging campaign in West Bengal, India. Twenty-five million individuals were sent an SMS containing a 2.5-minute clip, delivered by West Bengal native and 2019 Nobel laureate Abhijit Banerjee. All messages encouraged reporting symptoms to the local public health worker. In addition, each message emphasizes one health-preserving behavior (distancing or hygiene) and one motivation for action (effects on everyone or just on self). Further, some messages addressed concerns about ostracism of the infected. Messages were randomized at the PIN code level. As control, three million individuals received a message pointing them to government information. The campaign (i) doubled the reporting of health symptoms to the community health workers (p = 0.001 for fever, p = 0.024 for respiratory symptoms); (ii) decreased travel beyond one’s village in the last two days by 20% (p = 0.026) (on a basis of 37% in control) and increased estimated hand-washing when returning home by 7% (p = 0.044) (67.5% in control); (iii) spilled over to behaviors not mentioned in the message – mask-wearing was never mentioned but increased 2% (p = 0.042), while distancing and hygiene both increased in the sample where they were not mentioned by similar amounts as where they were mentioned; (iv) spilled over onto nonrecipients within the same community, with effects similar to those for individuals who received the messages.

Suggested Citation

Banerjee, Abhijit V. and Alsan, Marcella and Breza, Emily and Chandrasekhar, Arun G. and Chowdhury, Abhijit and Duflo, Esther and Goldsmith-Pinkham, Paul S. and Olken, Benjamin, Messages on Covid-19 Prevention in India Increased Symptoms Reporting and Adherence to Preventive Behaviors Among 25 Million Recipients with Similar Effects on Non-Recipient Members of Their Communities (July 2020). NBER Working Paper No. w27496, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3649860

Abhijit V. Banerjee (Contact Author)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Department of Economics ( email )

50 Memorial Drive
Room E52-252D
Cambridge, MA 02142
United States
617-253-8855 (Phone)
617-253-6915 (Fax)

Marcella Alsan

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) ( email )

79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Emily Breza

Harvard University ( email )

1875 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Arun G. Chandrasekhar

Stanford University - Department of Economics ( email )

Landau Economics Building
579 Serra Mall
Stanford, CA 94305-6072
United States

Abhijit Chowdhury

Institute of Post Graduate Medical Education and Research - School of Digestive and Liver Diseases

India

Esther Duflo

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Department of Economics ( email )

50 Memorial Drive
Room E52-544
Cambridge, MA 02139
United States
617-258-7013 (Phone)
617-253-6915 (Fax)

Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) ( email )

Cambridge, MA
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.povertyactionlab.org/

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

London
United Kingdom

Bureau for Research and Economic Analysis of Development (BREAD) ( email )

Duke University
Durham, NC 90097
United States

Paul S. Goldsmith-Pinkham

Yale School of Management ( email )

NY
United States

HOME PAGE: http://paulgp.github.io

Benjamin Olken

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Department of Economics ( email )

50 Memorial Drive
E52-391
Cambridge, MA 02142
United States

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