How motorized water systems became Adjumani District’s armour against COVID-19
The water scheme was constructed by UNICEF with funding from EU-IGAD to contain the spread of COVID-19
Adjumani District in the West Nile sub-region recorded Uganda’s second COVID-19 positive case on March 29, 2020.
For the district leadership, it came as no surprise, considering that the district hosts 33 per cent of Uganda’s total refugee population.
The news threw the district into utter disarray due to a dearth of essential supplies such as protective gear and infection prevention and control (IPC) materials for health workers who immediately fled for their lives.
“I admit to being among those who ran away at first. We were all scared for our lives because we did not have personal protective equipment or running water in the health centres for patients or health workers to wash their hands,” Dr. Dominic Drametu, the District Health Officer, said.
Dr. Drametu explained that the district’s most critical need at the time was providing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to health workers and giving all the health centres and the local communities access to safe, clean water to maintain proper hygiene.
“It does not make sense to tell people to wash their hands with soap regularly as per the World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines when they don’t have the water to use,” Drametu said.
At the preliminary stage, UNICEF, with support from the European Union through the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), provided water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) supplies such as sanitisers; liquid soap, aqua tabs to 35 health facilities and further procured IPC materials such as gloves, bleach for cleaning and disinfecting surfaces and floors, gumboots, face masks, among other protective equipment for all health workers in the district.
Motorised water systems
At the macro level, UNICEF realised that Adjumani District needed to deepen water coverage if the gains against the spread of COVID-19 were to be maintained.
“At the time, the district had about 67 per cent water coverage concentrated mainly in the towns. Our goal was to decentralise water access to rural communities both in the refugee settlements and the host communities to reduce congestion at the existing water points, lowering the transmission of the virus, said Paul Semakula, UNICEF’s WASH Specialist based at the Gulu Zonal Office.
After the district water office identified two boreholes with a high-water yield, UNICEF contracted a supplier to motorise the boreholes: one in Mirieyi Refugee Settlement, Ofua Sub-County and another 40 kilometres apart in Oblikong Refugee Settlement.
The fully operational water schemes now generate over 100,000 litres of water daily. The Mirieyi water scheme serves 13 tap stands with three taps, while the Oblikong scheme serves 12 tap stands, each with two taps.
The water schemes are solar-powered, backed up with a standby generator fuelled by the locals through their sub-county water boards – a structure put in place to oversee the maintenance of the system and collection of a small levy from the users.
The scheme pumps out 4,000 litres of water every hour to a high-rise 100,000-litre reservoir tank from which the tap stands scattered within the community receive supply.
Besides the refugee settlements and the host communities, the water systems have also enabled schools and health centres to improve the quality of care for students and patients.
“Having water supply at Pakele Health Centre III has improved the quality of our services to the community. There has also been a reduction in hygiene-related diseases due to the community’s access to clean water,” Emmanuel Idraku, the Infection Prevention and Control focal person at Pakere Health Centre III, said.
Idraku added that health workers at the health centre no longer worry about contracting or transferring infections from or to patients due to the availability of water points in all hospital wards.
The intervention was timely at the height of COVID-19, where Idraku recalls several health workers contracting the virus from patients due to the lack of running water and other vital IPC supplies, which UNICEF, with EU-IGAD support, hastily provided.
According to Omonda Grandfield Oryono, the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) of Adjumani District, the motorized water systems have put the district at a water coverage of 80 per cent. Both systems now serve a combined population of 16,000 people.
Additionally, with support from the EU through IGAD, UNICEF procured a brand-new ambulance for Adjumani District and set up a four-bed specialized high-dependency unit (HDU) at Adjumani General Hospital for patients who present with life-threatening symptoms.
Whilst the ambulance was initially for COVID-19 cases, it has significantly improved the referral system of pregnant mothers in rural communities and teenage girls who became pregnant due to the prolonged school closure.