So much more than a COVID-19 response
How COVID-19 interventions funded by the Netherlands have improved people’s general health
“I used to wash my hands only in the evening at home after finishing work, but now I wash them all the time,” Esaka Taban (33) explains.
His welding workshop is located in the Rumbek main market where motorbikes, people, stray dogs and chariots are kicking up dust as they are moving up and down. Stalls and small shops in yellow brick buildings are dotted along the main street. This is where people come to buy groceries, building materials, have a cup of tea with a spoon of gossip or get their hair done. It is difficult to keep a distance from the fellow customers, which makes this a breathing ground for the COVID-19 virus and other communicable diseases.
March 2020; the COVID-19 pandemic hit South Sudan with full force and in a country where lockdown is not feasible UNICEF and partners focused on simple but yet effective prevention measures to halt the spread of the disease. With the support from the Kingdom of the Netherlands, a large hygiene project was rolled out in Rumbek, a town once suggested as the capital due to its location in the middle of the country. A total of 214 handwashing stations were put up in the market and other high-risk locations as part of it.
“I used to have a small handwashing station outside my salon, but my customers would finish the water quickly,” Angelina Adhel (31) says sporting perfectly made braids. “The new handwashing station is helping my customers but also others. Anyone in the market that passes here can wash their hands.”
However, handwashing stations alone is not enough for people to halt for a minute and wash their hands. An intensive information campaign was needed to encourage people to take the time to ensure their hands were clean at all times. A corps of hygiene promoters walked the streets of the communities spreading the word, while radios and loudspeakers were echoing their messages. Yet, nothing can beat a committed community hygiene champion.
“I always direct people to use the handwashing station before entering the airport and those coming from different destinations exiting,” Moses Thon (36) says gushing. He is the gateman at Rumbek Aviation Authority and explains that a nod or pointing to the handwashing station was not always enough. “Sometimes I have to force people to wash their hands. Some people don’t understand when you are trying to help them.”
Esaka can confirm that, as the handwashing station outside his workshop has been broken. A motorbike ran into the stand, but luckily, he could weld it back together. The plastic tap however is not that easy to fix. He is disappointed in how some people are not being gentle with what is not theirs. Angelina share his frustration but is determined “We can’t give up on educating them.”
She has seen the results of the hygiene project, who has reached more than 370,000 people. “It’s rare to see someone with flu and sneezing in the market as we previously used to see. I have a feeling the good hygiene promotion is to be credited.” She receives support from Moses at the airport who is confident the hygiene efforts yielded results; “The COVID-19 cases were minimized through good hygiene.”