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COVID-19 Solutions in East Africa: Serving Health Professionals, Under-Resourced Communities, and Refugees

The COVID-19 crisis continues to evolve and affect millions of the most under-resourced and vulnerable populations across the globe. In East Africa, and much of the developing world, there is a lack of reliable, accurate health information on how to prevent the spread of the virus. In addition, many doctors and nurses in these areas do not have access to safe water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) solutions that enable them to care for their patients.

Dr. Delila Moshi, MD, chief physician at the Mnazi Moja Hospital in Tanzania, speaks about the impact of safe water, sanitation, and hygiene solutions on healthcare facilities amid COVID-19:

To prevent the spread of the new coronavirus in these underserved communities, organizations such as Water Mission, the Poul Due Jensen Foundation, and UNICEF have prioritized curbing COVID-19 outbreaks that could put an overwhelming strain on already fragile local healthcare systems. 

A conversation about Water Mission’s response to COVID-19 in Tanzania

I spoke with Water Mission project manager, David Gerlach, one of our in-house experts on WASH initiatives in Tanzania. We discussed what puts refugees and the communities that host them at high risk for COVID-19, what challenges we face in serving in camps and hospitals, and how Water Mission works daily in Tanzania.

Cinelle Barnes (CB): How has COVID-19 affected the people of Tanzania? In particular, how has it or will it affect refugees?

David Gerlach (DG): A virus like this makes it boldly evident that there is still a huge gap in access to WASH services in the country. Hospitals and health centers were already operating at nearly full capacity before the COVID-19 outbreak. Most do not have reliable access to safe water or sufficient handwashing facilities.

As for people living in and around refugee settings, there is a need for handwashing stations in high-traffic areas, such as water access points. Relief organizations and ministries like Water Mission are working diligently, installing handwashing stations around camps and ensuring continuous access to safe water.

CB: What else is Water Mission doing in response to the outbreak in the country? And who are we collaborating with to serve as many people as possible, as quickly as possible?

DG: In coordination with the Tanzanian government, Water Mission has installed 100 handwashing stations in hospitals and health centers throughout the capital city of Dar es Salaam. We are working with the Poul Due Jensen Foundation to install at least 200 more facilities in hospitals throughout the country.

We have also been requested by the Tanzanian government to supply up to 100 handwashing stations in prisons which currently have no access to handwashing facilities at all.  

Tanzania Handwashing Water Mission
Minister of Health, Ummy Mwalimu, tests a handwashing station installed by Water Mission in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. The handwashing station is one of the hundreds implemented in partnership with the Tanzanian government, as a preventive measure against COVID-19 outbreak.  

In western Tanzania, we’re partnering with UNICEF to provide five hospitals with safe, treated water that will be supplied to the entire area. Our teams are working late into the night to make sure WASH infrastructure is in place to prevent the virus from spreading.

“On behalf of the Tanzanian government, I would like to thank Water Mission for complementing government efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Their contribution entails preventing the spread of the disease in health facilities and we will start with 100 facilities….

The biggest thing that health professionals need to focus on is to ensure that they wash their hands to prevent contracting and transmitting infectious diseases. This initiative by Water Mission’s program in Tanzania ensures that happens.”

Ummy Mwalimu, Minister of Health, Tanzania 
National broadcast, April 23, 2020, translated from Swahili 

CB: What challenges do we and other responders face while serving refugees and under-resourced communities?

DG: There are so many WASH needs throughout the healthcare system and at public places in East Africa. Methods for preventing and containing the spread of the virus, such as social distancing and proper handwashing, are either not possible because of lack of supplies and resources, culturally not understood, or require wide education.

Shifting cultural and behavioral norms is difficult everywhere, as evidenced by certain regional responses to recommendations by governments and health organizations. These changes are even more difficult to make without a proper WASH infrastructure in place.

Our teams are actively building this infrastructure. An example is our suite of coronavirus-specific hygiene education materials written and printed in local languages. These materials have pictures and graphics that are easily understood, helping to educate users on the most effective ways to wash their hands and prevent virus transmission.

COVID Information Flyer Translated in Swahili
An example of free COVID-19 information, translated in Swahili.

To overcome this global health crisis and ensure that Water Mission staff members are able to consistently provide lifesaving assistance to at-risk populations, it is imperative that we keep joining forces with communities, local governments, churches, like-minded relief groups, corporate partners, and supporters like you.

Together – and only together – can we help bring an end to this unprecedented health crisis. Before, during, and after such crises, our agility and ability to respond to needs are enabled by your prayers and generosity.  

Join Water Mission’s ongoing response to COVID-19 as the crisis continues to evolve around the world.


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