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Fund human behaviour studies to tackle pandemics, says academy

Sweden’s leading science institute highlights importance of funding non-medical science during health crisis

More effort and funding need to be ploughed into non-medical science to understand and handle the global coronavirus pandemic and its impact on Sweden, the country’s Royal Academy has said.

In a report, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said that a funding focus on medicine and health alone had created gaps in Sweden’s response to the health crisis. It called for more funding for behavioural science, social science and history research to understand societal responses to the pandemic and use behaviours to minimise infection risk.

For example, the report warned that large parts of the country’s population are at risk at of developing “behaviour-fatigue” as social distancing continues to apply. The report highlighted that many people were not aware of the importance of sticking to certain behaviours until vaccine coverage had reached higher levels—a problem that could present a risk in Sweden, which imposed some social distancing rules to halt the pandemic but stopped short of a full lockdown.

“With this report, we wanted to highlight the behavioural science perspective that may sometimes have been lost in Sweden during the pandemic,” said Staffan Normark, chair of the group behind the report.

The group also underlined that healthcare staff had been undervalued during the pandemic and were suffering from stress and fatigue. Emily Holmes, a professor of psychology and co-author of the report, called for more funding to counteract mental illness in the sector, as well as organisational measures to help staff recover through, for example, more holidays.

The report on human behaviour is the fifth in a series of Covid-19-reports by a cross-discipline group of scientists, covering different scientific aspects of the pandemic. A conclusive final report will be published at the end of the year.