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COVID-19 in Prisons: Handwashing Stations for Tanzania Inmates, Officials

What is an overlooked hotspot for disease outbreaks? Prisons.

We are now only beginning to see high numbers of COVID-19 cases reported by prisons in the United States, particularly in Oklahoma, Texas, and Michigan. As such developments cycle into the news, let us not forget that institutions in low- and middle-income countries face the same threat while equipped with far fewer resources to prevent or contain the spread of disease.

In Tanzania, where Water Mission has a program serving refugees, rural communities, and healthcare facilities, our teams have addressed the need for handwashing resources at local penitentiaries. As of early June, more than 500 coronavirus cases had been reported in the country. Of this number, none represent cases within prisons.

I spoke with Agnes Mwero, administrative manager at Water Mission’s office in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, about the specific needs of inmates, officers, and visitors during the pandemic, and on how hand hygiene solutions help curb outbreaks in particularly crowded settings.

An officer tests a handwashing station installed by Water Mission at a prison in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

Cinelle Barnes: How did Water Mission learn about the need for handwashing resources at prisons in Tanzania?

Agnes Mwero: We learned of the needs at these prisons through the Dar es Salaam region’s chief medical officer, Dr. Rashid S. Mfaume. Our team had been in contact with him in the process of installing handwashing stations in health facilities. After hearing about the plight of prison officials and inmates, we contacted the chief commandant of prisons in Dar es Salaam. He acknowledged the need for these resources and endorsed Water Mission’s handwashing stations for all four prisons in the region.

CB: What exactly are the needs at these prisons as it pertains to disease prevention and containment during COVID-19?

AM: These prisons are not only highly populated with staff and prisoners. There are hundreds of visitors who go in and out daily. In high-traffic areas such as these, everyone is at high risk for contracting or spreading illness, especially with the lack of handwashing facilities.

The chart above shows the number of prisoners, staff members, and visitors benefiting from Water Mission’s handwashing stations at four prisons in Tanzania. During COVID-19, handwashing remains as an effective preventive measure against transmission.

CB: To help meet these needs, how many handwashing stations has Water Mission installed in prisons?

AM: In partnership with the Poul Due Jensen Foundation, we have installed 35 handwashing stations, each complete with safe water, soap, and drainage, across four prisons in the Dar es Salaam region.

CB: Are there any unique specifications or design elements considered when designing, constructing, or implementing these hand hygiene solutions?

AM: We used the same design as those installed at health facilities, but we exchanged the push taps for more durable ball-valve taps because the stations are frequently used.

Prison officer tests handwashing station admits COVID-19
Ball valves are durable and reliable, performing well after many cycles. The ball valve’s ease of operation, repair, and versatility lend it to extensive industrial or public use, including at prisons.

CB: How can we pray for the people we are partnering with and serving at these prisons?

AM: The officers and other staff working at these prisons are as exposed to the risk of coronavirus infection almost in similar measure as health workers. They do not have the luxury of working from home or even social distancing, given the nature of their work. They definitely need protection for their health and safety, and for that of their families and the prisoners, they are serving.

CB: Is there anything else that would be helpful for readers to know as they consider the needs of overlooked and under-resourced communities?

AM: Despite the intense nature of their work, the officers and prison officials we interacted with were very friendly and extremely grateful for Water Mission’s work. They took extra time to help with installations and have been very supportive during initial follow-up visits to gather data for mWater, which is our internal platform for collecting and analyzing data. We use this data to track the progress of our work in various settings, including prisons.

We believe we have left a positive impression on prison officials, and we look forward to continued opportunities to serve at their places of work.

In Water Mission’s ongoing response to the evolving global health crisis, we continue to identify needs around the world, particularly in vulnerable communities. As needs emerge and persist, you can join us in our fight against COVID-19.

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