In Zimbabwe, COVID-19 awareness grassroots campaign paves way for safe re-opening of markets

“As you saw when you entered the market there are water points where people wash their hands as part of COVID-19 prevention measures."

Kholwani Nyathi
market engagement
UNICEFZimbabwe/2021/Dorothy Meki
11 November 2021

For the first time in nearly two years, Karoi’s informal markets are a hive of activity as traders have learnt how to serve their customers without exposing themselves to COVID-19.

Gladys Machekanyanga, a fruit and vegetable vendor at the Old Silas fresh produce market in Karoi Town in Mashonaland West, said she was relieved to be back at work as providing for her family was becoming increasingly difficult during the lockdowns to slow down the spread of the disease.

“I have four children. They need to be fed and I have to pay their school fees from this vending business,” Machekanyanga said.

The lockdowns were first imposed early last year when Zimbabwe started recording COVID-19 cases and this meant a sudden stop in income inflows for informal traders like Machekanyanga.

She believes the reopening of the market will not have been possible without the intervention of the Apostolic Women Empowerment Trust (AWET), which is running grassroots COVID-19 awareness programmes promoting disease  prevention and  the uptake of vaccines to allow for the re-opening of the economy.

AWET with support from UNICEF and funding from the Health Development Fund (HDF) is complementing the Ministry of Health and Child Care’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic in 52 districts.

Its behaviour change facilitators (BCF) are now a common sight in areas such as Karoi where they carryout door to door awareness campaigns in the suburbs and at highly populated areas such as markets.

“The lockdowns had made our lives very difficult as farmers that we rely on for the fresh produce were not able to move due to the restrictions and we could not come to the market because of safety concerns,” Machekanyanga said.

UNICEFZimbabwe/2021/Dorothy Meki

“However, the situation has changed significantly because of the awareness campaigns by the BCFs who are teaching us about how to protect ourselves and our customers against COVID-19.

“As you saw when you entered the market there are water points where people wash their hands as part of COVID-19 prevention measures and here at my stall I make sure that my customers sanitise their hands before I serve them.”

The AWET BCFs, who comprise of community members from different backgrounds and religions, can be seen throughout the day moving around the market stalls encouraging adherence to regulations to stop the spread of COVID-19 such as, mask wearing, social distancing, maintaining high standards of hygiene and handwashing/sanitising.

Doreen Mwenyana, an AWET BCF and a practising Muslim from Chikanga, said she was happy to see their awareness campaigns helping pave way for the reopening of the economy and also bringing down the COVID-19 cases in Karoi.

“We move around encouraging residents to stay at home if they feel unwell and get tested for COVID-19 when they suspect that they were exposed to the virus,” Mwenyana said.

“Karoi was a COVID-19 hotspot in Zimbabwe during the third wave of the outbreak and with our behaviour change programmes we have seen cases going down and the relaxation of restrictions, paving the way for the re-opening of the markets and other sectors.

“We also encourage people to get vaccinated against COVID-19 so that the economy can fully re-open.

“Getting people to accept the vaccination message has been difficult given the rampant misinformation and differing beliefs, but I believe the re-opening of the markets here and the economy in general shows that we are winning the war.”

The majority of Zimbabwe’s working population is employed in the informal sector and the lockdowns that followed the outbreak of COVID-19 in early 2020 came as a big threat to their livelihoods.

Zimbabwe is gradually re-opening its markets as COVID-19 cases decline and the vaccination programme gains momentum.