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Readying young minds to fight cholera through better hygiene in Zambia

© UNICEF Zambia/2009/Aliyev
School prefect Ernest Kalyati takes the lead in teaching the importance of washing hands with soap at the launch of a cholera-prevention workshop in Lusaka, Zambia.

By Precious Mumbi Habeenzu

LUSAKA, Zambia, 5 November 2009 – The rainy season has returned in Zambia, bringing with it the threat of cholera, a preventable waterborne disease that sickens thousands here every year.

“Cholera affects the same compounds every year in Lusaka,” said UNICEF Representative in Zambia Lotta Sylwander, referring to impoverished residential neighbourhoods in the capital.

‘Your Life is in Your Hands’

Last year, nearly two-thirds of Zambia’s 7,000 cholera cases were recorded in Lusaka province, which is home to more than 1 million people. In response, UNICEF and its partners are assisting the government with a new advocacy campaign called ‘Your Life is in Your Hands’.

The campaign is being rolled out in the most high risk areas of Lusaka – through town-hall meetings for school children, follow-up events in schools, radio public service announcements and a UNICEF cartoon character named ‘SOPO.’

The ‘SOPO’ cartoon – originally developed by UNICEF in Malawi with support from the organization’s regional office in Kenya – is an innovative series that educates children about proper hygiene practices. It is being shown in government schools in four cholera-prone Lusaka compounds: Chawama, Chipata, Kanyama and Matero.

Four critical times to wash
Launching the campaign at Kanyama Basic School, Lusaka District Commissioner Christah Kalulu spoke to more than 2,000 elementary students about changing their attitudes and behaviours regarding health and hygiene.

“Hygiene is about you,” she said. “All of you should make sure that you practice good habits of washing your hands with soap before you place your hands on food, after visiting the toilet and even after playing. You never know what germs you may have encountered.”

‘Your Life is in Your Hands’ promotes handwashing with soap at four critical times: before eating, before preparing food, after using the toilet and after changing diapers. The campaign appeals to both younger and older children with performances by the traditional drama group ‘Banja’ and a popular young Zambian entertainer known as ‘Popo.’

A peer-to-peer approach
UNICEF and its partners believe campaigns like the one under way in Zambia are highly effective because they rely on peer-to-peer advocacy and education.

© UNICEF Zambia/2009/Aliyev
Zambian students enjoy a performance by the traditional drama group ‘Banja’ and a popular young Zambian entertainer known as ‘Popo’, who encourage good hygiene to reduce the threat of cholera.

“It will not be possible to defeat cholera and other waterborne diseases without children and young people,” said UNICEF Deputy Representative in Zambia Elspeth Erickson. “We are deeply committed to working with children and young people, not merely for them.”

And the peer-to-peer strategy seems to be working. Ernest Kalyati, 14, a student at Kanyama Basic School, was eager to teach others what he had learned about hygiene during the campaign launch.

“I have learned so much today, especially on how to prevent cholera, and I will make sure to share this information,” he said, “because I, too, know many of our own pupils who have had cholera before.”



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