Rescuing dreams amid a cholera outbreak in Buduma Primary School, Namayingo District
Timely interventions from UNICEF and SIDA save young aspirant nurse's dreams amid cholera outbreak at Buduma Primary School in Namayingo District
In the heart of a recent cholera outbreak that threatened to close Buduma Primary School, nestled on the serene shores of Lake Victoria on Bukana Island, a determined young girl's dreams of becoming a nurse were salvaged.
Nabwiire Seridina, a 13-year-old dedicated Primary 7 pupil, has always nurtured the profound aspiration of becoming a nurse to serve her community. However, her dreams, along with those of 599 other children at Buduma Primary School, were on the brink of shattering as the menacing shadow of cholera loomed large.
“I am studying to become a nurse, to help my community, but the recent cholera outbreak almost made me give up because there were plans to close our school due to the outbreak, and that would have affected my studies since I'm P7 candidate and I have to finish primary school this year,” Nabwiire said.
The cholera outbreak in Buduma primary school began with a stomach ache reported by one child—an innocent complaint, or so it seemed. But within hours, it revealed the chilling presence of a severe cholera threat.
Faced with this grave health crisis, the school was thrust into a race against time, having to maintain a high level of cleanliness and prevent the deadly disease from spreading further among the children. The community was required to report hourly to Bugana Health Center III about any complaints of diarrhoea, vomiting, abdominal pains, fever, and headaches from the children. The situation was dire.
The headteacher of Buduma primary school, Mr. Okochi Charles, vividly recalls the initial confusion and panic that engulfed the community.
"The school’s first cholera case was a child, which was surprising. A child reported a complaint of a stomach ache, and we thought it was just a simple stomach ache. After a few hours, the child started to exhibit symptoms such as vomiting and passing watery stool, which to me seemed odd,” he narrated.
“The child was rushed to the nearby health facility of Bugana Health Centre III, where they initially believed it was a simple disease, as they had not encountered cholera before. The confirmation of cholera sent shockwaves through the community," Mr. Okochi revealed.
“We were really scared of the situation because there was a lot of panicking and I didn’t know what to expect,” Edwin Byakatonda, a pupil in Primary 2 pupil who aspires to be a teacher, says.
However, a ray of hope emerged! Within 48 hours, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), supported by funding from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), swiftly intervened to rescue the school from an impending catastrophe. The cholera outbreak had been traced back to poor hygiene, stemming from limited sanitation facilities and resources both within the community and the school.
UNICEF equipped the school with the essential tools for hygiene and sanitation: hand-washing facilities, mobile toilets, gumboots, gloves, soap, and Aquatabs to treat water. But more importantly, UNICEF provided vital education to students and teachers on how to handle the outbreak and prevent further spread.
UNICEF also partnered with World Vision to implement community engagement activities, using mobile vans and the distribution of information education and communication (IEC) materials, as well as using the local radio stations to disseminate life-saving prevention and awareness-raising messages about cholera.
The UNICEF Health Specialist for Emergencies, Martin Nglobe, notes that within 48 hours of the cholera outbreak, UNICEF responded urgently, supporting the district to set up a Cholera Treatment Unit (CTU) and to develop a comprehensive response plan.
“Proactive and strong leadership of the district team, guidance from the Ministry of Health, and a strong partnership with World Vision and the World Health Organisation greatly helped to prevent any deaths from cholera in the district,” notes Mr. Ngolobe.
“Their prompt and comprehensive response not only saved lives but prevented the closure of the school as it had been recommended by the district cholera task force,” shares Mr Okochi, beaming with a smile on his face.
What further stands out was the construction of a girls’ toilet facility, specifically tailored to maintain menstrual health. Nabwiire Seridina’s eyes gleamed with newfound confidence as she shared, “UNICEF and the government set up toilet facilities for us, and one of them was a girls’ facility that includes a section to help us maintain menstrual health. Now, I’m more confident in class, and I never worry about my menstrual periods affecting my education.”
Nabwiire’s remarkable journey, fraught with determination and hope, exemplifies the impact of a timely response by the government, supported by UNICEF and SIDA, which transcended material assistance and saved countless dreams from turning into nightmares.
“Their prompt and comprehensive response not only saved lives but prevented the closure of the school as it had been recommended by the district cholera task force,” shares Mr. Okochi, beaming with a smile on his face.
According to Assistant District Health Officer, Dr. Mathias Mangeni, who played a pivotal leadership role in managing the outbreak, "UNICEF's support, including IEC materials, a case treatment unit, infection prevention and control supplies, and WASH facilities, played a critical role in managing the outbreak in the area."
He also underscored the importance of community engagement and a rapid response system, which proved pivotal in averting fatalities and further infections.
Nabwiire Seridina's aspiration to become a nurse was nearly crushed by a cholera outbreak. Yet, through the collective efforts of the government, UNICEF and SIDA, she and her fellow students can continue their education safely.
UNICEF's unwavering commitment to ensuring that no child's dreams are derailed by preventable diseases has given children like Nabwiire the hope and opportunity to pursue their dreams, ultimately illuminating the path to a brighter future for themselves and their community.
Dr Mathias concludes, “For me, what stood out was the commitment from our partners and the health workers to jump into action once the index case was announced. NO ONE IN NAMAYINGO DISTRICT DIED FROM CHOLERA!”
“UNICEF and its partners continue to strengthen emergency response capacity and IPC at the district and health facility levels. Our strategic development partners like SIDA have shown unwavering commitment to the wellbeing of the children, which will allow them to thrive and realise their full potential,” says Mr. Ngolobe.