Something bad can also bring something good

UNICEF supports Iganga District and many other districts in the fight against COVID-19

By Sacha Westerbeek
Iganga District
30 March 2021

The Iganga Islamic Medical Centre in eastern Uganda is a busy place this Tuesday morning (3 November 2020). A steady stream of women – some with and some without children, men and young people enter the gate and are stopped by the guard who takes their temperature and guides them to the handwashing station at the entrance.

All the visitors seemed to know that handwashing with soap, when done correctly, is critical in the fight against the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19). But not everyone who comes here has ready access to a place to wash their hands at home or in the community

Doreen Nakiyemba, mother of 9-month-old baby Vanessa, takes her time to wash her hands diligently. The yellow soap bar produces some good foam and a nice scent and Doreen looks satisfied. “I have come here thrice since COVID-19 started and before I enter, I always wash my hands to keep them clean and free from COVID-19 and other diseases,” she willingly explains.

UNICEF supports Iganga District and many other districts across the country in the fight against COVID-19 with several supplies including handwashing stations, hand sanitizer, liquid soap, disinfectant, mops, protective personal equipment and soap.

Owing to the long-standing relationship with Unilever globally, UNICEF Uganda received a contribution in kind, which has benefited 13 health facilities in Iganga District, including the Islamic Medical Centre.

“Washing hands with soap is one of the cheapest and most effective things you can do to protect yourself and others against infectious diseases, including the coronavirus,”

underlined Muluya Kharim Mwebaza, the Iganga Asst. District Health Officer for Environmental Health.

Handwashing is also key to protect health workers from infection and prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other infections in health facilities. As the coronavirus response takes its toll on the health services in Uganda, the practice of handwashing with soap is even more important in warding off common respiratory and diarrhoeal diseases.

In Uganda we have a saying: Something bad can also bring something good. “We have noted a significant drop in diseases due to poor hygiene, such as diarrhoea and vomiting,” proudly explained Mr. Paul Kiwanuka, In-Charge of the Islamic Medical Centre.  “Since the coming of COVID this has been a welcome side effect.”

The pandemic has highlighted the critical role of hand hygiene in disease prevention and control and the importance of behavioural change communication and community outreach.

At the health centre, the staff conduct regular health talks prior to triage, and they discuss COVID-19 prevention during all health services provided. In addition, the patients can read the Information, Education and Communication materials which have been developed by the Ministry of Health – supported by UNICEF and they can listen to messages on the radio, TV and even on their mobile phones. 

Doreen is a regular visitor of the health centre. She delivered her baby here nine months ago and is back for measles vaccine. She has learnt a lot from the counselling, especially on the importance of breastfeeding and the need for clean hands, especially after cleaning the baby and before handling food.  

 “Now, everyone knows that they have to wash their hands. This COVID-19 pandemic has forced people to change and have a belief that hand washing is the way to lead a better life,” said Muluya.

Sustained change is hard, but ever so needed. At the same time, one should also not overlook the challenges Uganda faces in term of water and sanitation (WASH) infrastructure. Despite steady progress, lack of adequate access to WASH in Health care facilities is widely acknowledged. Also, only 58 per cent of schools have basic handwash facilities and 61 per cent of the urban population have handwash facilities with soap at their homes.

Unilever soap

No one organization or sector can address Uganda’s WASH challenges and COVID-19 crisis alone. Therefore, strategic collaboration between the public sector and private sector is critical. The Iganga District Local Government and UNICEF are grateful that Unilever donated soap to increase the number of people who have access to these lifesaving supplies, especially now when the need is greatest. The Unilever soap has been distributed to 13 health centres in Iganga to support with infection control and prevention.

Continued joint efforts and swift action are needed to make handwashing with soap accessible at home, at school, in public places and at all health facilities across the country.

As UNICEF we work hard to ensure that every child can live in a clean and safe environment, free from germs that cause disease. It is hoped that in 20 years’ time, Doreen’s baby girl will remember Uganda as country where everyone had access to water and soap, everywhere!