Kayunga District's triumph over Cholera within its borders
Close collaboration between the government, SIDA, UNICEF, WHO and the World Vision saw an integrated response that averted the spread of Cholera in Kayunga District
Kayunga: - Kayunga District, Uganda, faced a formidable challenge when three cases of cholera emerged within the walls of Namagabi Primary School. In the wake of this health crisis, the community's response, fortified by the government and the United Nations Children’s Fund’s (UNICEF) steadfast support, was implemented within the first 48 hours of the outbreak.
Cholera, a deadly and fast-spreading disease, struck this community, revealing vulnerabilities that had to be addressed urgently. Notably, the swift intervention played a pivotal role in halting the outbreak.
The first crucial step was ensuring access to clean water. The school's water source was treated to prevent further contamination, and a safer alternative to the shadoof (a pole with a bucket and counterpoise used especially for raising water), situated too close to the toilet and posing a high infection risk, was provided, effectively curbing the spread of the disease.
Using funding from UNICEF Regular Resources (RR)— the most flexible form of funding UNICEF receives for allocation to the most vulnerable children in the greatest and most urgent need, they are the 'lifeblood' of the organisation, funding the backbone of UNICEF’s country presence and programming as well as critical global technical expertise and core management functions, and from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) the response extended to every corner of the community.
Aquatabs, capable of purifying water, were distributed not only in schools but also in homes, ensuring that everyone had access to safe drinking water. Handwashing facilities were placed in selected schools and health facilities to promote handwashing, a fundamental practise in preventing cholera.
“Notably, the cholera response was immediate, within the first 48 hours,” says Odong Paul, the District Environmental Health Safety Specialist for Kayunga District, commending the government and partners’ efforts, stating, "I can conclude that we stopped the disease successfully because of UNICEF."
A vital component of the fight against cholera was health education. Teachers and other health administrators were sensitised about best practices, empowering them to educate the students and the wider community effectively. UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) joined hands to impart critical knowledge, fortifying the community's defences against future outbreaks.
A significant development was the installation of a Cholera Treatment Unit (CTU) at the local health facility (Namusaala Health Centre III). This establishment provided a dedicated space for managing cholera cases.
The government, in collaboration with UNICEF, also conducted door-to-door visits to ensure families were drinking treated water, soap was also distributed to homes, promoting proper handwashing, an essential measure in preventing the spread of the disease.
Overcoming challenges was integral to the community's success. The lack of latrines in some households posed a potential threat, but determined enforcement efforts ensured the situation was rectified.
Kulabako Margaret, Deputy Head Teacher at Namagabi Primary School, emphasised that the outbreak did not disrupt the school's operations. Instead, it heightened their awareness and vigilance. Margaret said, "We addressed any complaints related to cholera symptoms promptly," displaying the school's commitment to student well-being. When cases emerged, health teams swiftly tested and treated the affected students. In addition to the handwashing facilities, they were provided with Aquatabs and therapeutic milk. Even after their discharge from the hospital, follow-up care was given to ensure the children's recovery and well-being.
Among the local heroes was Nakiguli Hidyah, a 13-year-old community member and Deputy Head Prefect at Namagabi Primary School. She reflected on the initial fear that the school might close due to the outbreak but quickly adapted to the new safety measures, emphasising the importance of handwashing and food safety and ensuring that her fellow pupils followed the guidelines to date. With a dream to become a journalist, Hidyah is determined to ensure that her fellow pupils adhere to the best safety practices.
As UNICEF's Emergency Specialist, Mr. Martin Ngolobe notes, the response was a result of concerted efforts among the government and partners, including SIDA, UNICEF, WHO, and World Vision. “We would not have tackled the outbreak in the shortest time if we hadn’t joined hands as partners,” he concludes.