Qatar participated in a strategic roundtable on behavioral sciences for better health on the sidelines of the 75th World Health Assembly in Geneva. Qatar was represented by HE the Minister of Public Health Dr Hanan Mohamed al-Kuwari, who was part of an expert panel of health leaders from around the world.
The session opened by setting out the importance of behavioral sciences on health policy and planning. Behavioral sciences focus on understanding why specific behaviors and decision-making processes occur by investigating the drivers of and barriers to health-related behaviors that operate in a specific context at the cognitive, social and environmental levels.
During the session, HE the Minister was asked to explain how Qatar has been using behavioral insights. She said that in 2016, the Qatar Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy launched B4Development, the first behavioral insights unit in the Arab world and Middle East. The Ministry of Public Health and B4Development have been working closely with behavioral experts over the last few years before and after the pandemic to address critical public health issues in the country.
HE Dr al-Kuwari explained how Qatar has been using behavioral science to promote healthy lifestyles, getting people to eat healthy diets and regularly engage in physical activity, as well as addressing many risk factors of non-communicable diseases, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer. She said that Qatar has designated a Sports Day for the country, where His Highness the Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani issued an Amiri decision to allocate a Sports Day for the country in 2011, which is an official holiday aimed at highlighting the importance of sports and physical activity for the health of our society.
She said that the issuance of such an Amiri decision and the participation of the country’s supreme leadership in its activities, headed by His Highness, confirms the great care and great interest in sports and the public health of the community by encouraging making sports a way of life, and this is confirmed by the National Health Strategy emanating from the Qatar National Vision 2030. HE Dr al-Kuwari said the Covid-19 pandemic has stressed the need to use principles and methods of behavioral science for addressing and controlling the spread of communicable diseases.
Indeed, the use of behavioral science methods has been particularly important during the pandemic, explained HE the Minister, stating that it was critical to gain a clear understanding of why specific behaviors and decision-making processes occur. Behavioral insights played a central role in Qatar’s planning and implementation of multiple Covid-19 areas, including ensuring compliance with social distancing, hand hygiene and restrictions; increasing trust in, and utilization of, online mental health services; and enabling high uptake of Covid-19 vaccines through a comprehensive understanding of the determinants of vaccine hesitancy.
When asked how Qatar plans to use behavioral insights during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022, HE the Minister explained how Qatar is using behavioral insights to ensure a healthy and safe FIFA World Cup.
A primary use will be to drive healthy eating in stadiums and fan zones this is a major initiative that has been the subject of the joint efforts between Qatar, FIFA and the WHO, in particular, to leverage the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 to promote healthier lifestyles around the world. HE the Minister said the partnership will be using the power of sports events and credible football messengers to inform communication based on behavioral insights to promote healthy lifestyles, including physical activity, healthy eating, and mental health and well-being.
HE Dr al-Kuwari concluded by explaining that evaluating the impact of public health interventions is one of the main challenges for public health. With this in mind, Qatar has launched a knowledge, attitudes and practices survey around physical activity, nutrition and mental health to establish a baseline, against which the impact of the health-promoting interventions on behaviors can be measured.
This will, in turn, support the understanding of the public health legacy of these mega-sporting events and knowledge sharing with future hosts. During the session, WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus explained how the Covid-19 pandemic has been a powerful demonstration of the need to engage communities, understand their concerns and motivations and adapt strategies accordingly. Governments have had to persuade their populations to accept new behaviors and conditions, all in the context of rapidly evolving evidence.
Dr Ghebreyesus said that as part of WHO’s transformation, a new unit for behavioral sciences has been created to integrate evidence about why people make the decisions they do, into WHO’s programs and policy work.