COVID-19 continues to pose a threat to countries around the world, including vulnerable populations in sub-Saharan Africa. In March 2020, Uganda adopted strict lockdown measures, which may partially explain the relatively low spread of COVID-19 in the country. Yet the tremendous toll of the lockdowns on socio-economic functioning of the population has led the government to gradually start easing restrictions despite increasing case rates, starting in July 2020. As countries begin reopening their economies, effective means of controlling the spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) are needed to ensure that any considerations of lifting social distancing policies are evidence-based.
Face masks have been shown to be an effective non-pharmaceutical tool to reduce the spread of SARS-CoV-2 in mathematical models and observational studies, but the use of face coverings has not yet been the tested in randomized trials in community settings. This study is set against the backdrop of a recent policy in Uganda, where the government has committed to providing a free face mask to each Ugandan citizen 6 years or older. This policy of unprecedented scale offers a unique opportunity to study the large-scale distribution of masks to the population to reduce the risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection. Researchers investigate whether greater access to face masks paired with education and behavioral nudges encourages mask use and reduces the spread of SARS-CoV-2. Data are collected in 90 villages in Eastern Region of Uganda, including 1,530 phone interviews (17 randomly selected households from each village) and 540 field observations of mask wearing (6 observations from each village). Results from this study will be shared with policy partners (the Ministry of Health and the Office of Prime Minster of Uganda) in real-time to enable incorporation of evidence into policy decisions.
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