“It Smells Bad.” “I Don’t Have a Lid that Fits.” Reasons We Don’t Protect Ourselves from Mosquitos

By Victoria Maskell | UNICEF
23 Oct 2018
U-Report survey responses to the question, "Why don't you use repellents?"

Use repellent. Empty and scrub clean containers filled with standing water. Securely cover containers that hold water. These are some of the behaviors we encourage people in communities with mosquitos to undertake—but do at-risk populations do them? And if not, why not?

The 20th of August was World Mosquito Day, so UNICEF joined forces with K4Health to run a series of activities to make sure the dangers of the mosquito remain in the public eye. As well as gearing up for the launch of the mosquito emoji, we wanted to use the opportunity to find out more about people’s habits and knowledge with regards to mosquito prevention. UNICEF launched a survey via U-Report, a platform whereby young people can give their opinions on issues that affect them using their mobile phones, to get information on these desired behaviors. We launched surveys in Belize and Mexico and on the multi-country “global” platform.

The results show us the need to keep raising awareness and promoting the adoption of prevention behaviors. 54% of U-Reporters on the global platform do not know how to protect themselves from mosquitos. 57% don’t use repellent. 40% don’t empty and clean containers that hold standing water each week. 34% don’t use lids or covers on containers that hold water. We found similar results in Belize and Mexico.

In short, these statistics show that many people are not undertaking the behaviors we believe will protect them from mosquito-borne diseases—diseases that, according to statistics from the World Health Organization, claim the lives of 700,000 people around the world every year.

When we delve deeper, we see that social and individual factors act as barriers against the adoption of these behaviors. We see that 11% of respondents said repellent smells bad, and that is their principal reason for not using it. Affordability and availability were also cited. One-fifth of respondents said they were unaware that they should be using repellent.

U-Report survey responses to the question, "Why don't you use repellents?"

With regards to scrubbing clean containers, over 50% say they didn’t do it because they didn’t have time or forgot, and lack of tight-fitting lids was the reason 49% of U-Reporters gave for not covering containers.

U-Report survey responses to the question, "Why don't you scrub clean containers?"

U-Report survey responses to the question, "Why don't you use cover containers with tight-fitting lids?"

What can we learn from this? In short, we can see there is still lack of awareness of all three key behaviors, so continuing to find opportunities to talk about mosquitos and how to protect ourselves is important. Is there work we should be doing around innovating a “one size fits all” lid? A mosquito repellent that doesn’t smell? A way of reminding people about the weekly deep clean? We need to analyze these results further, and ask U-Reporters the same set of questions again at regular intervals to assess changes in their knowledge, attitudes, and practices.

We also recommend continuing to use community-based mechanisms to ensure those at risk adopt the desired behaviors and are empowered to protect themselves from the deadly, and sometimes life-changing, mosquito. UNICEF and partners continue to implement different strategies in this area.

Through Communication for Development approaches, prevention actions are being implemented by engaging community leaders, service providers, local government, youth, children, and mass media. These actions include working at schools, community spaces, and individual homes.

U-Report is not just used to poll young people, but also to send information and answer individual queries U-Reporters have. Since the start of the Zika Response, a Zika bot has been developed whereby U-Reporters can access bite-sized information around symptoms, treatment, prevention, and consequences, and a Zika Live Chat was held last year. UNICEF is assessing the need to undertake further activities on U-Report to fill continuing gaps in desired knowledge, attitudes, and practices.

Victoria Maskell
Victoria Maskell

Victoria (Vicky) Maskell serves as the Zika U-Report Engagement Contractor for UNICEF on the Emergency Response Team for Zika in Latin America and The Caribbean.

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