Hand hygiene and other simple interventions are key to Ebola prevention

“We have learned to use the hand washing facilities on the site.."

By Ritah Mwagale
Ebola prevention
UNICEF Uganda/2019/Mwagale
05 December 2019

A herd of hippos bask in the midday sun on the shore of Lake Albert in western Uganda.  A few metres away from them, around 30 fishermen stand unperturbed in a row on Kishenyi Landing Site, arranging their colourful fishing nets and sharing banter. They occasionally burst into laughter, but their hands continue working the nets with precise coordination that can only come with the experience of doing the same activity time and time again. 

A short distance away on the other side of the lake is the Democratic Republic of Congo where things are far from merry. For more than a year, the country and, specifically North Kivu province, which is closest to Uganda, has been battling Ebola Virus Disease (EVD), a deadly haemorrhagic fever. According to the World Health Organization, the disease has claimed the lives of 2,197 people as of 19 November 2019, and new infections continue to be reported each day. 

When the UNICEF team met the fishermen at Kishenyi Landing Site to discuss Ebola, Wilson Byaruhanga was among them.  The 30-year-old was vocal when asked whether he knew about the disease.

“I know about Ebola. In fact, all of us here know about Ebola because the health workers always come here and warn us about it,”

Byaruhanga says.

He was referring to health workers and village health team (VHT) members from Kishenyi Health Centre II, a few metres away from the landing site. 

The health facility staff and VHTs have continuously used all avenues to educate their communities. VHTs have visited all 476 homes in the area, and even go to places of worship to remind people about the disease.

“This past Sunday, I talked about Ebola in church,” said Baguma Innocent, one of the four VHT members at the landing site.

According to VHTs, these constant reminders have improved the fishermen’s knowledge and prevention practices. “The people are positively responding to the information. They are using the handwashing facilities,” said Sembabi Moses, another VHT member.

At the landing site, there are four hand washing facilities, which are filled with chlorinated water by the VHT team members and placed on different sides of the site for easy access. The fisherfolk have been taught that washing hands with soap or ash is key to preventing the deadly disease. “We have learned to use the hand washing facilities on the site when we come out of the water and after we have sorted out our nets,” said Wilson.

UNICEF Uganda is supporting the Government of Uganda to prepare individuals and communities with correct information and skills to prevent a possible Ebola outbreak. UNICEF has equipped health facilities with infection prevention and control (IPC) equipment and provided handwashing facilities in public places like schools, churches and landing sites. 

“You have done so well because it has been many months since Ebola was reported in Congo but no one has fallen sick here!” 

Wilson said as the UNICEF team prepared to leave.